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Dawning of The Age of 5G
Sudeepto Roy | Klish Way - our local tech guru

Courtesy Sudeepto Roy.

Only matters of true importance are celebrated in February: Punxsutawney Phil, wine, pizza, love, and cellphones! At Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, held annually in February, flagship phones sporting 5G, the latest generation of cellular services, were announced. Faster than cable speeds! Self-driving cars! Robotic surgery! The 5G marketing machine is already in overdrive. Even before its birth, 5G has become the high-tech bone of contention between giants on either side of the Pacific and has succeeded in generating its own controversy (a prominent carrier’s recent branding stunt of relabeling advanced-4G as 5G-evolution). Skeptical of the hype? Do read on.

What on earth is a "G"? Standards bodies, such as ETSI in Europe, form industry-wide partnerships ensuring that mobile and network equipment can speak with each other using commonly agreed upon techniques. Inventions arising from years of research by leading companies are selected on technical merit, to form new generations, or "G's," of capabilities and services. Engineers constantly push the edge of advanced technologies, simultaneously dealing with problems such as: designing smarter phones, lengthening battery life, supporting more devices in a network, more active connections, reliable voice and data, fastest possible speeds, widest coverage, the best use of precious spectrum, and keeping emissions below safe regulated levels, while providing truly groundbreaking wireless services.

By sheer coincidence, each of the past four decades has lined up numerically with a “G.” The ‘80s saw the advent of 1G, the first generation of analog cellular services, followed by 2G GSM and CDMA digital in the ‘90s, 3G in the 2000s, 4G in the current decade, and brand new 5G for the upcoming roaring '20s! While 1G was about voice on portable phones, 2G heralded digital quality voice, with text messages, more users, global roaming, and internet connectivity speeds like dialup. 3G upped the game providing DSL-like faster connections, giving rise to the mobile internet, with downloadable ringtones, wallpapers, music, games, basic mapping, and phones with keyboards, cameras, and touchscreens. Then, 4G revolutionized the mobile internet, sporting a fast data-only wireless network, carrying data across multiple parallel streams (known as carriers). 4G also brought the power of computing into handhelds, giving rise to smartphones more advanced than laptops, downloadable apps, outstanding mobile cameras, beautiful screens, video telephony, advanced navigation, gaming, and a plethora of internet commerce services with speeds roughly equivalent to those of cable modems.

Enter 5G. 5G uses highly effective channel coding achieving faster than cable, fiber like speeds of 5-10 Gbps. However, 5G’s truly revolutionary aspects come from ground-breaking innovations that allow practically anything running on electricity to be connected to the internet. 5G is designed to access a new set of frequencies known as millimeter wave, where data is transmitted using ultra-fast pencil like beams, taking advantage of spatial diversity. Smart antenna technology increases both coverage and capacity of the 5G network. Higher reliability and ultra-fast latencies are designed in, allowing for mission-critical applications such as precision control of robots. Finally, the system is designed to support massive connection density: millions of devices on a 5G network (compared with 4G’s thousands).

While 5G’s impact will be immediately noticeable in this year’s flagship smartphones (fastest data rates, highly responsive internet, foldable screens, real-time translation), over the next few years, this amazing technology will make automobiles safer, make virtual reality feel more photorealistic, gaming more immersive, entertainment jitter-free, and help make our homes, cities, grids, farms, industries, education, and healthcare a lot smarter. Perhaps, just perhaps, 5G may live up to its boldest prediction: “The biggest thing since electricity!”


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