What makes 5G networks faster? - Tech | 5G, SDN/NFV & Edge Compute


Monday, April 8, 2019

What makes 5G networks faster?

In his keynote speech at Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Verizon's CEO Hans Vestberg talked about the Eight 5G Currencies and mentioned that 5G speeds are expected to touch 10 Gbps, soon. 5G technology supports speeds of 1 Gbps today, which is still twice the speed offered by the best 4G network. With such high speeds, you should be able to download a HD movie in a fraction of a second. What makes 5G faster than the previous generation technologies? How can 5G networks deliver better speed? This article will look into the nuts and bolts that make 5G faster than other technologies. 

There are several technological advancements in 5G architecture, which makes it significantly faster than the previous generation wireless technologies such as 4G and 3G. Some of them are given below:

  1. Spectrum - 5G's spectrum plays a significant role in improving the 5G network speed. 5G networks support 3 different ranges of spectrum - low band spectrum which is below 1 GHz, mid band spectrum from 1 GHz to 6 GHz and high band spectrum 24 GHz / 30 GHz to 300 GHz. The high-band spectrum is also known as millimeter-wave. Lower frequencies typically travel long enough and can propagate deeper than higher frequencies. Lower frequencies offer a better coverage. Higher frequencies will travel short distance, however can offer higher bandwidth. 5G has to offer both better coverage and higher speeds - and hence, millimeter wave is very important for 5G to offer higher speeds. (Also read: 5G Technology Overview and FAQ)
  2. Massive MIMO - 5G adopts massive MIMO technology where a few tens to several hundreds of antennas are used for propagating radio signals. The Massive MIMO enabled radio devices use algorithms to calculate the best possible transmission route through the air, to reach the receivers without any interference or with reduced interference.  When the interference goes down, efficiency of transmission goes up and hence, Massive MIMO helps 5G to provide higher speeds.
  3. Network Slicing - Many folks may wonder, how network slicing can influence 5G's speeds. However, Network Slicing carves out a dedicated capacity for you in the network. It is like someone building an expressway and carving out a dedicated lane for you and blocking others from entering the lane. You don't have to worry about network congestion and network slowness, as the capacity is dedicated completely for you. Hence, Network Slicing influences 5G's data speeds. (Also read: 5G Network Slicing - What, How and Why?)
  4. Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) infrastructure - MEC infrastructure influences both the latency of transmission and the speed of transmission. It is always quicker and faster to buy something from a local shop across the street, than buying something online, where your order gets shipped from a central warehouse. MEC does the same for 5G network. It offers compute infrastructure closer to the edge of the network, where service providers can host their applications or partner applications. Imagine a customer in San Jose, downloading a HD video from a datacenter in New York, vs. having to download it from a local MEC infrastructure in San Jose. Thus, MEC helps the service providers to offer higher speeds for services accessed through 5G network. (Also read: Top MEC vendors to watch)
  5. Virtualization - In the traditional network architecture, most of the network functions were served by special purpose hardware equipment. Service providers had separate hardware for functions such as firewall, router, cache and policy management. However, 5G services are cloud native. Most of the core network infrastructure for 5G network, runs in the telco cloud. A virtualized 5G network helps the service providers to deliver higher speeds in more than one ways. First of all, services that are inter-dependant with each other (for ex., caching server and a streaming server) can run in the same rack/hardware in the datacenter. This would reduce the number of network hops between these network functions. Second of all, service providers can dynamically scale their network infrastructure based on the load. Thus, virtualization allows the service providers to offer better 5G speeds. 
We still have a long way to achieve the vision of getting 10 Gbps wireless network speed. However, with several network equipment vendors and service providers aggressively investing their R&D dollars in 5G - you can expect the speeds to go up more, in the coming years. 

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