12 Feb 2019

A natural disaster can strike anywhere. After it passes comes the mad scramble by authorities and volunteers to find survivors. It’s terribly inefficient manual labor made harder by communications network failures that make locating a person like finding a needle in a haystack.

But imagine this: In the moments after a disaster, officials launch drones that provide small but powerful mobile cell equipment to get the network running again. Another wave of airborne drones takes up stations above the scene, beaming high-definition video to speed rescue operations and save lives.

Key takeaways:

  • Much faster data transfer speeds and a huge jump in simultaneous connections the network can support mean 5G will allow new capabilities across industries and consumer applications.
  • 5G’s enabling disruption will be strongest in machine-to-machine communications, which are needed to realize the potential of the Internet of Things

This scenario is just one application that will soon be made possible when fifth-generation, or 5G, cell networks — the next iteration of wireless telecommunications — start operating. Among the futuristic possibilities it will enable: mobile 3D video and augmented reality at ultra-high-definition resolution. Sensor-embedded infrastructure will help cities meet residents’ needs. Robotic cars and drones will constantly communicate with each other to improve performance and efficiency. Robot-assisted surgery and advanced telehealth will become the norm for patient care.

Pietro Scalia, a general manager at our company

“Connected devices are the cornerstone of 5G," said Pietro Scalia, a general manager at our company who studies 5G and recently authored a report on it.1 “Humans will still be in the center of our coming digital world, but 5G is going to allow better, faster communication between us and our machines. It’s going to transform how we interact with objects and each other."

5G delivers better communications for humans and machines

This new cellular technology standard promises orders of magnitude improvement over current 4G capabilities.

In one early 5G equipment test, engineers found that data transfer rates hit 3 gigabits per second, a major jump from the U.S. average of 18.5 megabits per second on 4G networks.2 Future upgrades will see speed jump to a possible 10 gigabits per second. Network latency, the lag time it takes for data to travel from one point to another, will diminish from a 4G network best of 60 milliseconds down to 1 millisecond.3 And density, the number of connections the network can support in a given area, will dramatically increase to around 1 million devices per square kilometer.

These upgrades are critical to achieve some of the digital world’s loftiest goals. That’s because cell networks are now being used by machines as much as by humans. Sensors and other devices are letting equipment ranging from power generators to home smoke detectors detect environmental and operating condition changes, report them and react. This is the rapidly growing Internet of Things.

“Everything in our world is becoming robotic," Pietro said. “Part of that evolution demands that our robots communicate more and faster. 5G makes this possible."

Pietro says he’s excited to see what developers do with these new capabilities, but a look at just a few areas hint at the possibilities:

1.    5G will help autonomous vehicles fulfill their promise

Robust, reliable and flexible communications links will let automobiles talk with each other and remote computers. This will allow vehicles to more effectively plan routes and participate in high-speed caravans that share power and increase fuel efficiency. Delivery bots, meanwhile, will be guided by traffic-control systems that reduce delivery schedules and fuel use.

2.   5G will make cities smarter, enabling many simultaneous network connections

Cities are improving communications, management systems and infrastructure to meet residents’ demands. A 5G-networked city will install technology-augmented services that improve life for millions. Street lights will monitor and report to drivers where they can find empty parking spaces. Vehicles connected to traffic-management systems will lower congestion. Machines and power producers will orchestrate electricity demand so that it perfectly meets capacity.

3.    5G’s low latency and improved reliability will fundamentally change healthcare

Medical students will train on virtual patients using robust virtual-reality models. High-speed wireless connectivity will let surgeons see real-time three-dimensional video of their patients’ organs, while artificial intelligence will update precise scalpel guidance every millisecond. Experts will virtually gather around patients to leverage collective knowledge.

“One of the most fantastic things 5G will enable is the ability to get services on demand everywhere," Pietro said. “Whether it’s my robotic car dropping me off and finding a parking spot on its own or a connected healthcare system that is focused on the patient, the answer to these dreams is more and better data that is communicated faster and more reliably."

When will 5G arrive? It’s already started

Telecommunication companies began rolling out 5G equipment in 2018. But Pietro said consumers will not have noticed any improvements yet. That should begin around the end of 2019, with the 3GPP standard Release 15 completing and the new Release 16 in its initial phase. By 2020-2021, developers will offer consumer and commercial apps that take advantage of the new capacity.

“This standard is expected to change the shape of the communications industry altogether by enabling many of the applications often touted as the true potential of the 5G vision," Pietro said.

Our company is helping build the very foundation of the coming 5G network. Customers are embedding our integrated analog RF transceivers, which connect devices at higher bandwidths, into 5G base stations. Meanwhile, they’re installing our clocking components to synchronize those base stations according to the new specifications. Proprietary power products, too, are helping manage challenging 5G system energy needs.

“5G is a disruptive technology," Pietro said. “It’s going to open a new era by enabling smart communication with all of the things around us. With this future coming into focus, we can confidently predict that 5G will help humanity achieve many things."

1. Texas Instruments, January 2019, "Preparing for a 5G world: An overview of the enabling technologies and hardware requirements."
2. Deutsche Telekom, “5G speed is data transmission in real time.”
3. OpenSignal, January 2018, "State of Mobile Networks: USA."