5G: where promise meets reality
Posted on September 10, 2018
5 min read
with Channa Seneviratne, Executive Director, Network and Infrastructure Engineering – Telstra
More than 600 delegates from the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) – the body that will set global standards to enable 5G – are meeting on the Gold Coast this week.
5G will underpin the adoption of a whole raft of world changing new technologies including the Internet of Things and driverless cars, so it is not hyperbole to say the 3GPP meeting will be future shaping. With so much at stake we thought it was important to explain what 5G is, and why it matters.
We have been asked many times – “Will 5G change the world?”. The short answer is absolutely yes. The slightly longer answer is this blog.
The best way to understand 5G is to realise it is more than just a faster, more efficient technology for mobile phones. What sets 5G apart from every earlier “G” is its ability to carry signals significantly faster. Latency – the time gap between a request for data being sent and the data being received – on 5G is reduced dramatically.
To put that into context, on an older 3G phone, latency was around 100 milliseconds – that is one tenth of a second. 10 years of steady development and investment meant 4G latency was down to around 30 milliseconds. With 5G though, typical latency will be as little as 4 milliseconds and with smart network engineering may go as low as 1 millisecond – one thousandth of a second – for ultra-critical Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
Why does that matter? Because while 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G were primarily about connecting voice and then data, 5G will be about connecting everything: what is referred to as Internet of Things. We may not notice one tenth of a second delay when we are waiting for a webpage to load but that type of lag will not work in the emerging body of applications that will require virtually instant response times.
Doctors performing surgery remotely using tactile internet tools need instant responsiveness far beyond what today’s 4G technology can provide. Autonomous cars need to be able to react instantly to obstacles and traffic directions to be able to safely navigate through busy traffic. Sensor-laden factories, smart electricity grids and other infrastructure need to be able to make adjustments instantly if they are to deliver the promised efficiencies and cost savings.
A world gearing up for 5G
We are already seeing industry gearing up to seize opportunities from 5G. Some forecasts indicate 5G will enable US$12 trillion in economic output globally, support 22 million jobs and drive US$200 billion annually by 2035. We believe we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution where the physical world is infused with digitally enabled mass automation. Because it is not just 5G on its own – 5G is arriving at a same time as other technology innovations in software defined networks, big data analytics, machine learning and IoT. It is the combination of these things that will be so transformative.
We are already seeing consumers eagerly anticipating lightning fast 5G connectivity, and the many things that it will enable in their lives. And Telstra has been at the forefront of the 5G charge with a string of world and Australian 5G firsts culminating in our recent launch of 5G network readiness in selected metropolitan and regional areas.
While there is a lot of excitement around 5G, we still often get asked by analysts, investors and even other telcos why Telstra is so committed to leading on 5G? Many people still want to know what the use case or application is that justifies the investment necessary to deploy 5G? These are the same questions that were asked ahead of the previous generations of wireless technology. Before 2G it was hard to conceive of the mobile phone becoming a mass market device owned by billions of people. Before 3G, it was questionable that enough people would want to access the internet on their phones. And before 4G, it was a brave call to suggest enough people wanted access to HD video at all times.
But in every one of these occasions the demand not only materialised it did so with remarkable speed and on a remarkable scale. Indeed, each new technology has been embraced more quickly than the last. 4G took just five years to reach 2.5 billion people, compared to eight years for 3G. And the customers of first-mover telco’s such as Telstra, enjoyed the earliest and greatest benefits of new technology.
From Telstra’s perspective, the baseline business case is simple. We are facing rapidly growing volumes of data and we need more efficient ways of meeting our customers’ demands. What that means is that we need to transform our network economics, and the 10X greater capacity of 5G at lower cost per bit will help do that for us.
On top of that we see incredibly exciting opportunities to open up new applications and services delivered over mobile using 5G – everything from IoT on a massive scale, to 4K and 8K video, to mission critical services, to remote robotics will be brought to a whole new level by 5G.
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