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Opinion: Super-fast IoT enabled 5G is right around the corner - or is it?

20 Jul 18

Article by Schneider Electric Data Center Global Solutions senior director Steven Carlini

Winston Churchill said it best: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

We all experienced the infamous 3G to 4G mobile network transition. Although the specifications and standards for 4G were established a decade ago, they took a very long time to materialize.

The International Telecommunications Union-Radio (ITU-R) decided upon the specifications for 4G back in 2008. We have seen a number of different names appear for networks that promise 4G data speeds, many of which provide very different results to consumers.

The problem with creating standards is twofold. Firstly, the standards aren’t strictly enforceable as the ITU-R has no control over carrier implementations. Secondly, the transition from an old standard to a new one doesn’t happen overnight.

There’s a long period where early networks don’t necessarily match up with what consumers expect. Although most advanced 4G LTE markets are past this stage now, these network types are still developing in some countries and the issue is bound to rear its head again as we move towards 5G.

The “buzz” around 5G hit a peak in 2016, in my opinion. People claimed sub 1ms latency would make possible applications like immersive holograms, kinesthetic communication, and haptic technology.

Imagine a world where you can interact with – touch and feel – a computer-generated image. You could spar with Muhammad Ali in his prime! Other possibilities include remote controlled surgery. Imagine being in Australia while a heart specialist in Boston is operating on you – true lifesaving technology!

So, when will we see 5G?

The standard ITU-R report on IMT-2020 radio interface technical performance was discussed by ITU-R Study Group 5 at its November 2017 meeting and it is the working specification from which the industry will work.

The total download capacity for a single IoT enabled 5G mobile cell must be at least 20Gbps, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has decided. In contrast, the peak data rate for current LTE cells is about 1Gbps.

The incoming 5G standard must also support up to a million connected devices per square kilometer, and the standard will require carriers to have at least 100MHz of free spectrum, scaling up to 1GHz where feasible.

Let me be clear, the 5G standard (or collection of standards) is not officially defined, and telecom companies are falling over each other to gain 5G leadership.

The kind of speeds promoters of 5G tout require high-density concentrations of cells as well as data. In the United States, AT&T is planning to be the first U.S. carrier to have 5G available in 12 cities by the end of this year.

Asian telcos seem to have the inside track on getting 5G off the ground and into the air. Cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo could be where large-scale adoption of 5G becomes standard starting as early as 2020. In Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland seem to be the best bets to get the next generation of mobile on-line.

However, many of these rollouts will have maximum transmission of only up to 15Gbps at a latency of less than five milliseconds. And that’s the best case.

These speeds are not going to enable real life holograms. We can only hope that the industry has learned a lesson – it will not disappoint consumers and potentially create negative backlash that could delay the 5G rollout or extend its launch into two or three more decades.

Educate yourself on 5G, and other helpful resources

Making smarter choices for the future means being as informed as you possibly can be. For data center owners or colocation providers, that means educating yourself on the trends and terms in the industry that will impact how you enable your digital demands.

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