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5G Performance: More than an upgrade and potential for a mobile blockbuster

February 24, 2017 - 4 Comments

Commercial deployments for 5G are expected to launch in 2020 and to be available in every major global mobile market by 2021. Ovum Informa Telecoms and Media predicts that more than 50 operators will be offering 5G services in close to 30 countries by the end of 2021.

However, the majority of 5G subscriptions will be concentrated in a handful of leading 5G markets, including the U.S., China, Japan, and South Korea. The U.S. will be the largest 5G market in 2021, with more than 10 million 5G subscriptions, followed by China, Japan, and South Korea. Those top four 5G markets will account for more than 80% of the world’s 5G subscriptions in 2021.

5G will rely on a diverse set of radio access technologies, different from previous generations of cellular networking (2G, 3G and 4G) where a new radio access technology replaced the old one. 5G will integrate different radio technologies. 5G technologies are under development and are likely to include both an evolution of existing radio technologies as well as new innovations. New 5G services and applications are currently being considered by global mobile carriers and regulatory bodies. These prospective offerings can be grouped into three different classes (see Figure 1), according to Ofcom (U.K. regulatory commission):

Figure 1:

Source: Ofcom, 2017

The diverse set of 5G services and applications, will require a diverse set of spectrum bands, with different characteristics, addressing different requirements, and combining both low and high frequencies as shown in Figure 2:


Source: Ofcom, 2017

Looking at the plethora of applications that will be supported or newly enabled, 5G promises to be the mobile networking panacea long sought after by network operators and their subscribers. However, the complete promise of 5G may not be reached with its initial introduction.  There are many “t’s” to be crossed and “i’s” to be dotted before the final form of this revolutionary technology can be fully realized.  And realistically, the experience for early adopters may not be stellar.

At first, there will be coverage issues. Remember how spotty 4G and 3G (and 2G for those who recall) were when they were initially launched? Chances are it will be the case with 5G networks as well until they are built densely enough. Specifics about the range that each 5G tower would cover compared to a 4G tower are still being worked out, so the range of geographic coverage is also yet to be determined.

Then there’s the network speeds. Of course, it goes without saying that 5G will be faster than 4G, but the theoretical data rates that are being achieved during trials and testing is one thing, and real-world performance with end users will be a very different thing. If experienced speed trends hold from when 3G and 4G were introduced to when 5G will be commercially deployed, by 2021, 5G speeds will be 5 times greater than 4G.

Figure 3: Mobile speeds by technology, 2021. Experienced 5G speeds will be 5 times greater than 4G by 2021.

Source: Cisco Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI), 2017

The future, with 5G, will enable higher speeds and ultra-low latencies for emerging applications that bring new mobile requirements (i.e., ultra-high bandwidth, ultra-low latency and ultra-low power). By 2021, 5G will generate 1.5 percent of mobile data traffic, and 4G will be 79 percent of all mobile data traffic and the predominant traffic type. However with the high bandwidth capabilities of 5G, next-generation mobile applications such as connected vehicles, massive IoT connectivity, Internet access for large events, smart cities, smart homes and industrial automation can be easily enabled and the traffic mix can rapidly change. Hollywood’s sci-fi movie makers may be hard-pressed to create computer generated imagery (CGI) that matches the reality of 5G hyperconnectivity. However, those silver screen visionaries may be the impetus for the next wave of mobile innovation – dare I say 6G.

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  3. A while to wait but whets the appetite. I was reading elsewhere that Intel is going to be producing 5G chips later this year. With two years to play with I imagine speeds may be even higher by 2020.

    • Agree Peter, many details and steps are being worked out and ratified before the commercial roll-out of 5G. The 3G and 4G modeled Cisco VNI speeds are based on actual speeds and not theoretical speeds that are being realized in the testing environment. Every new cellular radio technology (e.g.: 3G and 4G) had been introduced to us a decade apart, and the technology lifespan is almost two decades since their commercial deployment. I would conservatively estimate that it may take a decade for us to experience the full capabilities of 5G (keeping spectrum availability, standards ratification etc. in mind).