The telecom industry has been anticipating the rollout of 5G network technologies for several years now, but the future is finally here. While 4G networks offered a clear step forward from previous generations, 5G could potentially transform how data center services are provided over the internet, offering faster connections and making data-intensive technologies like augmented reality and machine learning viable on a large scale. Given the major role 5G will play in the future, it’s important to evaluate a few key 5G statistics.
What is 5G?
The next generation of mobile broadband connectivity, 5G differs from traditional 4G LTE networks because it operates on three different spectrum bands as opposed to just one. Most existing cellular services utilize the low-band spectrum, which provides a good coverage area and can penetrate structures to deliver connectivity. Where 5G sets itself apart is through its ability to utilize the mid-band and high-band spectrums. These spectrums don’t penetrate buildings as effectively or cover as broad of an area, but they offer far more available channels for transmitting data over the airwaves. They can also deliver much higher bandwidth and lower latency.
At the moment, most 5G technology is still operating on the low-band spectrum range. These are the same airwaves utilized by 4G networks, so even though many providers are technically offering 5G service, there isn’t a substantial improvement in performance. As the technology and infrastructure mature, however, devices will be able to handle 5G signals across multiple bands. Because high-band signals tend to deteriorate faster over distances than lower-frequency signals, providers will need to install more cellular transmitters to create broader coverage areas. Fortunately, many of these transmitters can simply be bolted onto existing 4G cellular towers or incorporated into other existing structures.
5G vs. 4G: What’s the Difference?
In very practical terms, it comes down to speed. As mentioned previously, 4G cellular devices transmit low-frequency signals across the lowest available spectrum. While it can transmit quite a lot of data, especially compared to previous generations of cellular technology, each signal takes up a sizable chunk of the available airwaves. Imagine, for example, that a typical 4G signal is like a floodlight. It puts out a lot of light, but when multiple lights are being shone in the same area (as is the case with multiple low-frequency devices), the light overlaps and it becomes impossible to determine where the light from one source ends and another ends.
That’s not much of a problem with light, but when it comes to data, it means congestion. All of the available bandwidth is sucked up and the entire network slows to a crawl. This is why the average 4G LTE smartphone typically had a full “five bars” of service when the technology first rolled out, but today is more likely to see only one or two bars during peak usage times. There are simply too many devices and signals competing for the available bandwidth and since those signals are broad (floodlights, remember), they struggle to transmit data effectively.
Things are different on the medium and high-band spectrums. There is much less congestion and the airwaves contain more available channels. With 5G technology, more data can be broadcast over these smaller channels. If a typical 4G low-frequency transmission is like a flood light, a 5G transmission over the medium-band spectrum is more like a high powered flashlight, and a high-spectrum (or millimeter-wave) transmission is like a laser pointer. Since so much of these higher-frequency ranges are not currently being used, 5G technology opens up a massive range of possibilities for future Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing devices. The existing 4G cellular infrastructure simply doesn’t have the space to accommodate so many new devices, even if it could transmit the data quickly enough to operate them (which it can’t do either).
Five 5G Statistics You Need to Know for 2020
1. 5G Networks Will Cover 40% of the World by 2024, Handling 25% of All Mobile Traffic Data
As 5G network connectivity continues to roll out in select markets throughout 2019, more customers will have the opportunity to upgrade to the new service. For the moment, most 5G connections are restricted to wireless technologies associated with home internet service, but a new generation of phones designed for 5G cellular service is already hitting the market. By the end of 2024, there is projected to be 1.5 billion 5G mobile subscriptions. This broad coverage will be essential for enabling a new generation of smart devices, as more than four billion IoT connections are expected within the next five years.
2. 5G Will Be Up to 100 Times Faster Than Current 4G Technology
Existing 4G LTE network technologies are pretty fast, theoretically topping out around 12.5 MB/s (megabytes per second). While actual average speeds usually fall quite a bit below that number due to bandwidth demands (closer to 1.87 MB/s), it’s still fast enough to download a 3 GB movie in about 27 minutes. But 5G technology is expected to deliver speeds of up to 2.5 GB/s (gigabytes per second), with some companies promising to push speeds even higher. Even if the actual average speed isn’t that high due to mitigating network factors (probably closer to 87.5 MB/s), the same 3GB movie would need only 35 seconds to download.
3. A Typical 5G Network Will Support Millions of Devices Per Square Mile
Unlike the massive cell towers used by 4G networks, 5G towers are sometimes called “small cells” because of their size and ability to transmit data over a different part of the radio spectrum. Designed for interconnectivity, multiple 5G towers are deployed across a network to create additional connection points and relay data faster than the centralized cell towers of previous generations. This tower density will allow 5G networks to support far more IoT devices than is currently possible. While today’s 4G networks can accommodate a few thousand devices per square mile, 5G will provide fast network connectivity for millions of devices, opening up tremendous possibilities for industrial IoT applications and the sensor networks of smart cities.
4. Under Optimal Conditions, 5G Latency Will Range Between 1-4 Milliseconds
Latency is caused by the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point of a network to another. It is primarily a byproduct of physical distance, but the type of connection plays a role as well. Latency can disrupt streaming content and cause a slight delay between when sensor networks take in data, transmit it somewhere else for processing, and then respond. With IoT applications like autonomous vehicles, fast response times with low latency connections are essential. Current 4G networks generally have latency rates between 50-100 milliseconds, but 5G could potentially reduce that rate to 1-4 milliseconds, creating incredibly reliable and high-performance networks.
5. Deploying Fiber Optic Cabling to Enable 5G Networks Will Cost Between $130 to $150 Billion
Since 5G networks rely on a large number of smaller cell towers, most regions seeking to deploy those networks will need to make significant investments in infrastructure, adding as many as three to ten times the number of towers. A study by Deloitte found that the United States will need to invest between $130 to $150 billion in fiber optic cabling to meet the network connectivity demands of these sites. The research firm has also raised concerns about foreign competition in the 5G market, pointing out that China already has far greater tower density (14.1 sites per 10,000 people compared to 4.7 per 10,000 in the United States) and is poised to make additional investments in the coming years.
With the 5G world right around the corner, it’s a good idea for organizations to take a moment and assess the state of the 5G market forecast to determine how it might impact their business. For data centers, 5G network connectivity promises to unleash the full potential of edge computing and IoT. By putting strategies in place today that take advantage of that potential, data centers can deliver better services and provide even greater versatility to their customers.
About Alan Seal
Alan Seal is the VP of Engineering at vXchnge. Alan is responsible for managing teams in IT support and infrastructure, app development, QA, and ERP business systems.