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  • Utility Transformations
  • Utility Transformations

5G Closer than You Think – or Is It?

Neil Strother
Feb 08, 2016

Network switch and UTP ethernet cables

In the world of high tech trends, fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks can be seen as the new Internet of Things (IoT), full of early hype but still a ways off. In the case of 5G, quite a ways off. Recent rumblings from major players point to 5G networks being deployed before the end of this decade, which could have important consequences for utilities and for connecting energy-saving devices in smarter homes. But this still feels like a hype train, even if some stakeholders are trying to play down all the excitement.

The notion of 5G got a fresh boost at (where else?) Consumer Electrics Show (CES) in early January. Telecommunications equipment giant Ericsson showcased a 5G system at the show, with current data transfer rates of up to 5 gigabits per second and with the expectation that this rate will increase to up to 10 gigabits per second in the near future. The company and carrier partner TeliaSonera have since announced plans to launch limited 5G networks in Sweden and Estonia in 2018.

Similarly, AT&T has discussed 5G with U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials. The network provider presented its vision to the FCC, outlining its architectural concepts for 5G technology, including a multi-radio access approach to support extremely high-speed mobile broadband along with low-speed IoT. To his credit , Glenn Lurie, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, has downplayed the hype and said the company doesn't want to overpromise and underdeliver on 5G technology.

Last fall, Verizon unveiled its 5G roadmap, noting it was accelerating the expected rate of innovation and that the technology would likely be introduced in the U.S. market sometime after 2020. Verizon also said it was committed to starting 5G field trials in 2016 along with partners Alcatel-Lucent (now combined with Nokia), Cisco, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Specifics Still in Flux

With all this fuss, it is important to note that 5G is still not fully baked. The standard has yet to be written. Here are some basic specifications, courtesy of the TelecomEngine website:

  • Intended to handle data from more than 100 billion devices, which will require an increase of several thousand times the capacity of today’s networks
  • End-user data rates of at least 10 Gbps, with generally available rates of at least 100 Mbps, which will require substantially new levels of network capacity and robustness
  • A minimum end-to-end latency of 5 milliseconds, with 1 millisecond of latency when necessary, which will require the installation of a number of small cells at communication end-points
  • One-tenth the energy consumption compared with 2010 levels

5G networks are no doubt the future; applications for utilities, smart cities initiatives, and smarter homes could one day be the beneficiaries. But, as my colleague Richelle Elberg has pointed out, utilities are still relying on older networking technologies and are likely to do so for a number of years. The reality: We are going to live in a 4G—even 3G—world for a while. For now, most companies and individuals can relegate 5G to the fringes of their thinking.