5G Technology

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5G Technology

by Michael Gariffo

Docid: 00021095

Publication Date: 2204

Report Type: TUTORIAL


As our desire for mobile access to rich media content continues to
expand, so to does the need for high-speed Internet access to deliver all
of those streaming videos, audio files, and games to mobile devices. For
most of the past decade, 4G technologies, primarily LTE and its newer
variants, have been the conduit for most of our mobile connectivity. Now,
that is changing as 5G technology is finally making its way into the hands
of the consumer. This newer wireless protocol promises speeds hundreds of
times faster than what is currently possible over most 4G networks. It
also offers expanded capacity, greater flexibility, and new deployment
scenarios that will help proliferate other nascent technologies, such as
the growing Internet of Things (IoT).

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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“The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of cellular data technology.
According to Qualcomm, a leading mobile technology company, ‘5G wireless
technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds,
ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased
availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. Higher
performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and
connect new industries.'”1

As anticipated, the major US wireless carriers are currently investing
multiple billions of dollars to bring 5G connectivity to their networks.
The reason for this is two-fold:

  • First, the additional speed provided by 5G services far outstrips
    what even the fastest 4G LTE services can provide today

    , a
    particularly important fact when most smartphone and tablet owners are
    consuming an increasingly large percentage of their video and audio
    content via streaming media services.

  • Second, 5G services would free up a massive amount of network

    . On a simplistic level, the transfer to 5G for even a
    minority of 4G LTE customers would ease congestion by more broadly
    distributing customers over a wider range of frequencies, via a wider
    array of networking hardware. On a more technical level, 5G technologies
    available now, as well as those under development promise to offer much
    higher saturation levels than their 4G counterparts. To simplify this,
    imagine a user wishing to download a 500MB movie file to their mobile
    device. This would consume valuable airspace for multiple minutes on a
    current LTE connection of average speed. However, the same user could be
    watching their film on a 5G network in less than one minute, thanks to
    the much more rapid download rate available. This frees up the network
    for the next user, or for the next task from that same user. With
    consumers demanding more and more high-definition and 4K video and
    higher quality audio files, this consideration will only become
    increasingly important.

As mentioned above, 5G services are currently being proliferated
throughout the US and nearly every other developed country in the world.
That said, there are definite leaders in this space. In the US, those
leaders are predictably, the three largest carriers: Verizon, T-Mobile,
and AT&T, all of which have 5G service areas already established, with
ongoing expansions planned for the next several years.

Despite all of this early enthusiasm for the race to 5G dominance, the
protocol itself still has a very long road ahead of it before it can
realize even a scant majority of mobile device connectivity. The incumbent
4G LTE technologies have had more than a decade to proliferate across the
globe. It has taken that long for their reach to enter some far-flung
rural areas just for the first time. While the transition to 4G was much
more rapid for urban centers, some locations, even ones in the US, are
still left to rely on decades-old 3G technologies. This discrepancy may
not seem particularly troublesome to those living in or near a major metro
area, but for a significant portion of the population – primarily those in
rural or difficult-to-reach communities – 5G remains many years off. This
is an important fact to remember when examining the future of 5G because
it helps to temper the promise of 5G with the realities of actually
implementing that promise for even a portion of the populace.

Advantages and Disadvantages

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5G offers a number of advantages, like high speed and low latency (see Figure
1), and a number of disadvantages, like infrastructure costs and the pace of

Connections and Speed

According to analyst John Loeffler, “The biggest advantages of 5G are
going to be the number of concurrent connections as well as the data
transfer speeds of those connections. The part of the radio spectrum that
5G accesses is almost entirely unused, so there is far less interference
from different radio signals that can limit how fast data can be
transmitted. What’s more, since it’s far less congested, you can have many
more devices connected to the network that will enjoy the full benefit of
a 5G network’s improved data speeds.”2

Ultra Low Latency

As compared to more connections and greater speed, analyst Ran Poliakine
argues that 5G’s “greatest advantage is its ultra-fast response time, also
known as latency. 5G’s ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) is
what really makes 5G stand out compared to previous cellular generations.
In fact, the technology enables responses that are 250 times faster than

Addressing a promising 5G application, Poliakine contends that “5G is the
missing element to reach peak safety for autonomous cars. The technology
enables quick data transmission and the ability to interact with the road
and with other vehicles on a level that can avoid crashes and streamline
the drive. With a 5G-connected vehicle, car manufacturers can also receive
data insights and analytics used to update the software or fix issues
remotely, completely transforming the car owner’s experience.”4

Figure 1. 5G Performance Goals Compared to 4G/LTE

Figure 1. 5G Performance Goals Compared to 4G/LTE

Source: GAO analysis of International Telecommunications Union documentation
| GAO-21-26SP5

Connectivity and Interoperability

The biggest disadvantage of 5G is connectivity and interoperability,
requiring, for example, the wholesale replacement of 4G-compatible phones
and tablets. “Old phones and tablets won’t be able to connect to 5G
networks, and any existing connected infrastructure will need to be
upgraded in order to work with 5G.”6

This problem, however, is somewhat mitigated by the fact that many
enterprises routinely upgrade their information infrastructure every few
years, either to improve performance; gain capacity; improve security, add
new features or functions; or, simply, stay supported. 5G-related upgrades
could be integrated into these scheduled maintenance cycles, thereby
discouraging a highly-disruptive and expensive urge to do a 5G-related
“rip and replace” operation.

Widening the Divide

As with many digital technologies, the large-scale deployment of 5G will
widen, at least initially, the so-called “digital divide,” or the
technology gap between rich and poor, urban and rural citizens. While
economic factors encourage the deployment of 5G in cities, then towns,
then rural communities, the effect is to technologically discriminate
against people by virtue of geography, thus enhancing education and career
prospects for some, while diminishing education and career opportunities
for others.

Federal 5G funding may be needed to help ensure an equitable allocation
of 5G resources; in particular, enabling simultaneous urban and rural

Safety and Security

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5G and COVID-19

Among the more ludicrous “conspiracy theories” surrounding the COVID-19
pandemic was that 5G mobile networks spread the COVID-19 virus. Enough
people were convinced of the alleged 5G/COVID-19 connection that the World
Health Organization (WHO) considered it prudent to offer an official
denial (as shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2. 5G Networks Do Not Spread COVID-19

Figure 2. 5G Networks Do Not Spread COVID-19

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

5G and Aviation

A more substantive concern about 5G has been registered by the aviation
industry, with US airlines complaining that 5G masts near airports are a
threat to critical airplane equipment. As reported by analyst John
Loeffler, “Airlines … protested that 5G [could interfere with]
altimeters that rely on radio signals near the frequencies that new 5G
networks use. This can be potentially hazardous when a plane is attempting
to land, especially in bad weather, when the altimeter is important for
knowing how close the plane is to the ground. As a result, network
providers are restricting their networks around airports and are looking
for other solutions to the issue.”7

5G and Meteorology

Moving to outer space, 5G is also a threat to weather satellites, since
“24 GHz frequency signals used by 5G networks can ‘leak’ into the nearby
23.8 GHz frequency band used by weather satellites to monitor atmospheric
moisture. This monitoring is critical to proper weather forecasting, and
there is concern that 5G networks can reduce the accuracy of weather
forecasts by as much as 30 percent.”8

5G and Cybersecurity

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has
expressed reservations about the current state of 5G cybersecurity

“5G is at a transition point where the technologies are simultaneously
being specified in standards bodies, implemented by equipment vendors,
deployed by network operators, and adopted by consumers. Although
standards for some 5G cybersecurity features have been published by
standards bodies, organizations planning to deploy, operate, and use 5G
networks are challenged to determine what security capabilities 5G can
provide and how they can deploy these features to safeguard data and

“Current 5G cybersecurity standards development primarily focuses on the
security of the standards-based, interoperable interfaces between 5G
components. The 5G standards do not specify cybersecurity protections to
deploy on the underlying information technology (IT) components that
support and operate the 5G system. This lack of information increases the
complexity for organizations planning to leverage 5G. With the 5G
architecture based on cloud technology, 5G systems could potentially
leverage the robust security features available in cloud computing
architectures to protect 5G data and communications.”9

NIST, among other organizations, is working to correct these standards

Future of 5G

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The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) believes that “[because] 5G
will allow for faster communication among more devices, it will enable
applications such as 3D video, extended reality – an umbrella term that
includes virtual, augmented, and mixed reality – and smart cities (meaning
cities that are using data to improve energy use, transportation
efficiency, and more).

“Extended reality applications are expected to impact a wide range of
industries, including healthcare, education, transportation, and military.
For example, researchers are developing extended reality applications to
help fighter pilots maneuver better in poor visibility or darkness.”10

More generally, 5G will help forward the goal of “universal service,” the
principle that all Americans should have access to communications services
including high-speed Internet. Universal service is, quite simply, the
cornerstone of the US Communications Act of 1934, which created the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC).

5G is the future of wireless broadband and communications for the entire
world. It is the next step for nearly all mobile coverage and the
forthcoming vehicle on which streaming media, communications, and
electronic infrastructure will travel. It will have an impact on everyone
from Fortune 100 enterprises to the average citizen, changing how they do
business, receive entertainment, connect to the Internet, handle massive
shipping operations, and more.

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1 John Loeffler. “What Is 5G Technology and How Will It
Transform Our Lives?” Interesting Engineering, Inc. February 5, 2022.

2 Ibid.

3 Ran Poliakine. “What You Should Know About 5G Technology And
What The Future Holds.” Forbes.com. August 12, 2021.

4 Ibid.

5 Timothy M. Persons, Ph.D. “What Is 5G and Why Does It
Matter?” US Government Accountability Office. December 14, 2020.

6 John Loeffler. “What Is 5G Technology and How Will It
Transform Our Lives?” Interesting Engineering, Inc. February 5, 2022.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Mike Bartock, Jeff Cichonski, Murugiah Souppaya, and Karen
Scarfone. NIST SP 1800-33A: “5G Cybersecurity.” US National Institute of
Standards and Technology. February 2021:2.

10 Timothy M. Persons, Ph.D. “What Is 5G and Why Does It
Matter?” US Government Accountability Office. December 14, 2020.

About the Author

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Michael Gariffo is an editor for Faulkner Information
Services. He tracks and writes about enterprise software and the IT
services sector, as well as telecommunications and data networking.

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