Understanding 5G

There is so much hype around 5G yet people understand it so little. In this series of articles, we will declutter the 5G buzz.

Collaborators: Uzair Sukhera (mobileLIVE) & Tayyab Bin Tariq (Ericsson). Original post on linkedin.

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What is 5G?

Let’s start with the basics. After 1G, 2G, 3G & 4G, 5G is the fifth generation mobile connectivity technology. Just like its predecessors 5G will provide mobile connectivity but at a much higher speed. If it is only about speed, why is there so much hype? 

In reality, what 5G brings to the table is a new kind of internet connectivity that enables virtually everyone and everything to connect including machines, devices, and humans thus opening endless possibilities of connectivity and bringing a paradigm shift in how we perceive communication. 

5G has the potential to support a large number of devices per square km (upto 10M) and it uses spectrum much more efficiently. This means that 5G can potentially extend battery life on devices by 10 years. This is powerful for IoT applications as well as end-user handsets.

This is 5G, Ericsson 
Image Credits: Comreg
Image credits: Comreg

Let us explore how this animal looks and smells like. Shall we?


Just like 4G, 5G is a wireless technology that is designed to deliver data rates of tens of gigabytes while promising ultra-low latency, ultra-high reliability with maximum availability. Unless you have experienced it, it can be hard to understand how it renders in our day to day usage.

 Just imagine that with all your devices connected, you are able to download an HD movie in a mere second with no effect on speed, that means you have just saved an hour with the power of 5G. That same movie could take more than 2 hours on 3G, around an hour on 4G while few seconds on 5G. 

Why does this matter? This means that high bandwidth applications and use cases like online video streaming/calling, gaming and mixed reality use cases will run smoother without buffering. 

Latency is the time interval between the stimulation & response. Let me elaborate on the concept with an example. Humans have receptors in our skin that sends signals to our central nervous system for external triggers. Just imagine that you touch a hot surface that can burn your hand, but the receptors in your skin send the signal to your central nervous system with a delay, what would you have? A burned hand. This is latency, which we don’t have in our internal neural network and we are able to sense pain, heat, and cold in an instant and it saves us from a lot of trouble. With ultra-low latency in 5G networks, there are endless possibilities of use cases with this ultra-low latency. A doctor can perform a remote surgery across the Atlantic or a band can have live jam sessions while physically apart. 


Are you wondering how 5G will be able to offer ultra-high speeds over wireless? By utilizing millimeter waves that are high-frequency bands above 24Ghz, and for 5G the plans are to use the frequencies until 100Ghz. But the high bands are not suitable for wide-area coverage. For that purpose the Sub 6Ghz bands will be used, where the speed won’t be high but the coverage will be over a large enough geographical area. So the mix can be used depending on the population density. This end to end deployment is known as 5G NR or 5G network Radio.

Since most operators are eager to deploy 5G as soon as possible, most of the current deployments are using 5Ge which isn’t 5G NR but uses the current LTE spectrum to offer 5G services over existing bands, most commonly at 2.5Ghz. For 5Ge operators need spectrum licensing from the governments.

If we look at it through the network perspective 5G NR can be made to retrofit on the existing 4G network, however, stand-alone 5G is the future of 5G NR since it will be able to operate on its own and will become a standard for 5G. 

Why does this all matter? Well all this means that 5G will lower the cost per GB of data by 10 times!

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Network slicing

Network slicing is the separation of multiple virtual network functions over the same physical infrastructure for different applications or services. Since there is a huge variety of applications with different network requirements, a network slice can be tailored to fulfill such requirements end-to-end.

Simplify for me please! Imagine if the network behaved like a single highway and all communication would be delayed due to congestion. A network slice would work like a high-occupancy lane (HOV) where certain privileged traffic can flow, often, much faster than the rest of the highway.

Critical traffic can be identified and will be granted a high-performance slice with high bandwidth, low latency, and maximum reliability. Regular priority traffic can be assigned to other slices. This provides a mechanism to guarantee critical network traffic irrespective of the traffic load on the network. This is achieved by Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFVi).

SDN technologies provide isolated logical networks and intelligently steer traffic through the carrier infrastructure. Network Function Virtualization (NFV) orchestrates network packet processing in virtual server environments. Each network slice has an isolated set of packet-processing virtual machines.

Edge computing (MEC)

This means bringing the computing power closer to the edge of the network. In typical cloud applications, the processing happens at data centers in remote locations and all the network traffic is routed to the data center for processing. This works just fine most of the time. However, for time-sensitive applications getting the processing and computation power closer to the users is required. 

Edge computing will enable latency-sensitive applications e.g AR/VR or mission-critical use cases like connected cars and robotics. The cloud platforms will need to be distributed and moved closer to the wireless network nodes (Towers). 

Why does this matter? VR applications need heavy processing and compute power. A slight delay of 20 milli-second can cause nausea for the users. 5G technology and its edge compute will solve such latency issues and accelerate the adoption of mixed reality.

We will 5G in-depth in the next posts, stay tuned!

Meanwhile, see some cool introductory videos on 5G, visit Ericsson and IEEE.

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