Let’s talk about 5G
Posted on March 1, 2016
4 min read
As part of the ongoing collaboration between Ericsson and Telstra to drive 5G technology, David McKechnie recently joined the Ericsson team in their advanced technology facilities in Sweden to begin work on their 5G Radio test-bed.
Working and living in Sweden (even in the middle of winter) is a blast, although I must admit remembering my scarf and overcoat just to duck between buildings was a challenge. Ericsson is a diverse, multicultural company, and so business is largely conducted in English, making it very easy to integrate with the team and get on with the fun tech stuff.
It’s also remarkable how similar English and Swedish are, pronunciation notwithstanding, so even reading a menu or ordering a coffee (very important when going for fika) becomes straightforward quickly.
But let’s talk about 5G. 5G is an opportunity to radically rethink what a mobile network can do for Australians; it’s going to be much more than just smartphones, tablets, and the other things often associated with the Telstra Mobile Network. The industry is abuzz with applications and technology for next-generation networks, and in the next few years we’ll discover what makes sense, and what’s best left on the sketchpad (pizza-delivery semi-autonomous drones, I’m looking at you). However, whether or not pizza-drones are mainstream in the next few years, one thing is sure about 5G.
It’s going to be superfast.
Over the last decade, the potential speed of mobile technology has grown exponentially, including our recent announcement to upgrade our 4GX network to deliver gigabit per second performance. Of course, the actual speed you get depends on what the load on the network is at any time and where you are located, but a doubling of the peak speed can often mean a doubling of the worst case speed too, so the average experience is constantly getting better.
Just based on technology trends, we could expect 5G to deliver peak speeds faster than 10 Gbps, and the Ericsson test-bed doesn’t disappoint. It delivers more than 10 Gbps to 2 users at the same time – that’s over 20 Gbps combined. It’s a little bit humbling to switch the system on and in a number of seconds transfer more data than many of our customers use in a month! Even better, these results are being achieved in a normal environment, with people, tables, walls and other things getting in the way, and not in an extremely controlled laboratory.
We don’t expect that everyone is going to need multi-Gbps mobile internet, at least, not quite yet. But the headline numbers mean it’s possible that a 5G-enabled network could connect everyone at hundreds of Mbps, even when the network is busy, and that’s certainly worth being excited about.
The test-bed is still more science experiment than commercial product. Although the equipment used to transmit signals (the radio base station) is largely built from commercially available hardware, the “mobile device” is the size of a bar fridge. Still, it’s actually smaller than some of the first 4G “mobile devices”, so I have no doubt it can be miniaturised once the standards have landed on a particular set of technology to use. This is expected in the next 2 – 3 years as trials and experiments continue, with fully standardized 5G expected around 2020.
The next step in this collaboration is to bring the test-bed out to Australia. We will learn how pre-standards 5G technology performs in Australia and what, if anything, needs to be included in the standards to adapt it better to Australian conditions.
We have some unique geography in this country, and we want to make sure that whatever technology is standardised for 5G, that it works down under as well as the rest of the world.