5G wireless network rollouts are happening this year. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have announced limited deployments across the U.S., including in California, Georgia, Texas and Washington, DC. Initial speeds are touted to reach an average of 10 gigabits per second (Gb/s) with peak speeds eventually reaching almost one terabit per second in the near future! This kind of throughput allows a person to download a high-definition, feature-length movie in a matter of seconds. This is great news for consumers of entertainment and gaming, but what it means for business is the real story.
The under-reported value of 5G is its sub-millisecond latency – a capability that enables real-time applications to reach commercial viability. The maturity of self-driving vehicles, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and big data is about to take a giant leap forward.
In late 2017, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) announced the first official 5G standards, which include a wide spectrum of radio frequencies. Initial 5G rollouts are expected to use lower frequencies in the 3000-4000 MHz range that can pass through some solid objects and transmit effectively for up to one mile, albeit with limited speed as distance increases.
As an ultra-high frequency radio spectrum up to 50 GHz comes into play, we will see 5G speeds approaching terabit-per-second throughput over short distances. This level of bandwidth may sound like a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t yet exist, but it will support concentrated clusters of devices, particularly IoT sensors, that thrive on low latency and lower-speed connectivity.
5G radio equipment can be deployed much like common Wi-Fi access points for small areas or on radio towers and streetlights for high-density cellular coverage in metropolitan areas. The expected demand for 5G access and the ability to roam freely across cells while maintaining strong signal levels will give business application developers something to get excited about. And the death knell is ringing loudly for consumer internet access over broadband and DSL; expect to see new wireless services from providers to meet the growing demand for flexibility by “cord-cutters.”
Similarly, in the case of autonomous vehicles, the limitations of onboard data processing have hampered otherwise rapid development. Because data that creates situational awareness in an autonomous vehicle is obtained via onboard sensors like cameras, radar and ultrasonic, some mishaps have occurred due to lack of outside inputs.
The bandwidth limitations of oversubscribed 4G cellular networks with high latency makes it difficult to export data for processing and return the result in time to prevent vehicular accidents. In a 5G world with virtually unlimited numbers of IoT sensors on vehicles, smartphones, streetlamps, parking meters and anything else imaginable, nearly everything can have awareness of nearly everything else in real time. The idea that constant connectivity equals a safer environment is a concept that autonomous transportation makers – along with many others – are betting on.
The 5G network rollout will enable other foundational technologies to provide services closer to the access edge. And with so many IoT devices streaming massive amounts of information, the need for big data warehouses, machine learning and artificial intelligence will create opportunities for new lines of commercial services.