What broadband is to DSL, 5G will be for LTE

Credit: Lightfieldstudiosprod | Dreamstime

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is fast-tracking the introduction of 5G services to Australia in 2019, which is excellent news for businesses.  

5G networks make sense in today’s digital world. Businesses are undergoing digital transformation, using technology so they can work smarter and take advantage of opportunities when they occur. A fast, mobile, flexible IT infrastructure is needed to meet these demands. Also, the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) creates the need to effectively connect, manage, and integrate smart devices into businesses’ network architectures. 5G is the most effective way to integrate varied and non-centralised IoT and other devices with high-speed systems.  

Ixia recently commissioned Dimensional Research to conduct a global survey of businesses to measure preparation and attitudes toward 5G deployment. Nearly half of the respondents have already deployed 5G networks, or plan to deploy them within the next couple of months, demonstrating the strong appetite for 5G around the world.

The promise and hope for 5G in Australia is that it will ultimately rival, and even surpass, wired connectivity. However, that dream is not quite a reality just yet.  

Unlike a wired network, it is difficult to fatten the wireless pipe to increase data throughput to the user. This is because wireless networks have to pay billions of dollars to operate over the air at specific bands. There is a limited supply of licensed and regulated bands, inhibiting the resources that could create a fatter pipe, even if the technology allowed it.  

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, offers short-range wireless connection to a wired broadband connection, so it’s not a true wireless network. Wi-Fi is, therefore, less regulated and operates for free in unlicensed bands over the air. There are fewer rules regarding who can access this medium and there is more available spectrum compared to its licensed counterpart.  

Credit: Jevanto | Dreamstime

The experience of operating long-term evolution (LTE) in the unlicensed spectrum has improved vastly. The improvements due to LTE-U, and now evolving to LAA and Multefire, have created additional options for operators to fatten the data pipes in addition to their licensed spectrum.  

Harnessing this opportunity lets operators use the unlicensed spectrum where possible to reach higher data speeds like 3Gbps. This will potentially be used to augment the licensed spectrum, effectively adding these bands to create a fatter data pipe that could transport exponentially more data.  

In addition, the user experience improves dramatically as users move from the licensed to the unlicensed spectrum and back, all on LTE instead of handling back and forth using potentially-unreliable Wi-Fi.  

There are a couple of use cases that would greatly benefit from the additional bandwidth provided by the unlicensed spectrum.  

For example, an augmented reality device could transport a couple to New York for an evening. This would require high-speed data (8K video) but the promise of providing that live experience from a lounge room will soon become a reality. Similarly, a surgeon could oversee a heart transplant from thousands of kilometres away. 

There is also the likelihood of improved seamless wireless experiences: moving from outdoors to indoors, getting into lifts, or on the train. The seamless connectivity required with one medium will be possible with LTE that can operate outdoors on the licensed spectrum and indoors on the unlicensed one.  

Of course, these benefits won’t just happen because of an upgrade in network connectivity and a new generation of devices. In fact, there will be no benefits at all if businesses and individuals don’t understand the nuances and risks of 5G.

5G will power the multi-faceted network that connects devices of all types. Maintaining a line of visibility and control into that same environment will be daunting. Testing and monitoring, in general, will also be difficult as environments continue to embrace new devices in networks that are no longer traditionally configured and deployed.  

Ultimately, 5G is an inevitable necessity as businesses and individuals continue to depend on software and smart technology for nearly everything. 5G will take connectivity and speeds to a whole new era compared with the older LTE technology, similarly to how broadband eclipsed DSL.

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