It’s not everyday that we see countries pouring money into a new technology. In fact, we usually see this happening about once in ten years, when a new generation of mobile networks is released.
The Canadian federal government, along with the Ontario and Quebec governments have pledged $200 million for research into 5G networks. These networks will deliver super-fast speeds, up to 100 times faster than the current 4G LTE networks.
The largest tech companies in Canada (IBM, Thales Canada, Ciena Canada, Ericsson, and CGI) will also contribute another $200 million towards the research.
The plan is for these companies and many more to setup laboratories and research facilities to test and eventually roll out infrastructure for the 5G networks.
What is 5G?
In a world where technology is advancing at a dazzling rate, with self-driving cars being implemented and more devices being manufactured with wireless capabilities, it’s no surprise that a new network standard is needed.
How does 5G work?
While we don’t expect 5G networks to be commercially available until 2020 or later, we’re still getting a glimpse of what the new mobile standard has to offer.
Large telecom companies such as Rogers and Bell in Canada, along with Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint in the United States are racing to develop 5G networks.
Small test communities in major cities are testing these blazing-fast networks that will soon be a part of our everyday lives.
Yet how will these companies be implementing infrastructure for this new technology? To answer that question, we have to look at the drawbacks of 5G technology.
What are the barriers to 5G networks?
Sofiène Affes, who holds a Canada Research Chair in high-speed wireless communications at the Centre for Energy, Materials and Telecommunications at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique in Montreal says that there’s two crucial barriers to 5G networks. One is the amount of spectrum available that the 5G signals can operate on. The other is the ability to use this spectrum efficiently.
Currently, 4G LTE networks operate around the 1700 – 2800 MHz range, however 5G networks will reportedly work in the 3 – 26 GHz range. While this may sound like a huge range, it’s actually not a whole lot to work with.
One main problem with using a higher frequency is that they have a lower wavelength (physics class is suddenly rushing back).
Having a lower wavelength means that more antennas will have to be constructed in order to carry the signal further. This will drive infrastructure costs higher, and will make it more difficult to implement antennas.
Strategies to implement a 5G network
So how are companies breaking through these barriers? First, consortiums are being developed, who will regulate the use of higher spectrums.
While these consortiums will deal with the implications of making 5G networks, it’s up to the telecom companies to develop the technology to distribute the network.
There’s two strategies to overcome the problem of lower wavelengths with 5G networks. One strategy is to implement small cells, which are basically small towers with antennas that work in clusters. These antennas can combine their strength to create a more directed beam to devices.
The other strategy to overcome lower wavelengths is to place more powerful (and thus larger) antennas in strategic positions that are spaced out enough to reduce the loss of signals.
Yet there’s still one major problem: physical objects. Odds are you have been in a parking garage with no cell reception. Signals can’t pass through multiple layers of concrete and beams. Currently, tests are being conducted to develop antennas that will be capable of delivering a stronger signal that will be able to pass around or through physical objects.
5G networks at a higher cost?
One of the main questions asked is: who will foot the bill? Many argue that since the telecom companies are pushing the 5G network onto consumers, that it’s these companies that should pay for their implementation.
However the question is more in-depth than simply a number on a piece of paper. Instead, we have to look at how a 5G network will allow many industries to grow at exponential rates.
5G networks will allow augmented and virtual reality systems to become much smaller. Within ten years, it’s predicted that we will see VR headsets the size of regular glasses. Think about playing your Playstation VR without that clunky piece of technology on your head.
We have to look at how a 5G network will allow many industries to grow at exponential rates
These new networks will also have numerous applications in many other industries. Urban planning will become much faster as planners and architects will be able to see real-time maps and any hazards that may be in their way.
Autonomous vehicles, which are quickly becoming more prevalent, will use 5G networks to communicate data between their systems and other devices.
And these are just a few applications that will become much easier to implement as 5G networks are introduced.
What do you think about the roll out of 5G networks? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Let us know in the comments!