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 autonomous vehicles viable on a large scale.
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 are right around the corner. By the end of 2024, there is projected to be 1.5 billion 5G mobile subscriptions. This broad coverage will be essential for enabling the Internet of Things, as more than four billion IoT connections are expected within the next five years.
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 3 GB movie would need only 35 seconds to download.
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.
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.
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.