Will 5G be Available to Us in 2020 and should We Care?

In the past, being able to communicate in far distance seems to be magic. Now this “magic” is actualized in the form of wireless communication.

The development of the first analogue communication, which is called the first generation (1G) is considered a quantum leap in the progress of wireless technology. As the years progress, researchers and industries have been working hard towards the development of next generations of mobile communications. From the timeline, we will notice a new generation of wireless technology appears at approximately every 10 years:- 1980 (1G), 1990 (2G), 2000 (3G), 2010 (4G), and 2020 (5G).

Looking at the trend, a new generation of mobile communication only comes to us especially the rest of the world after almost a decade after the previous one, with it taking 5 to 10 years for the current generation to be fully deployed and matured. As of 2020, most of us in many parts of the world are enjoying the full capabilities of the current 4G technology and many more countries are expanding their 4G network to cover the entire nation.

Here, But Not Yet

With this observation, we must expect that 5G may not arrive into the commercial market immediately even if it is released now. It would take at least another 5 years from now to become fully deployed and at least 10 years to reach the rest of the world. This is because 5G, which is capable of enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliable low latency communication and massive machine type communication, currently is developed only for the specific business cases or to suit specific requirements for industries.

So why not prioritize development and deployment for the masses? Firstly, it may be just too expensive to build it for everyone and secondly we are still using 4G with satisfaction to serve our needs such as providing internet access, making video calls, connecting to social media, and so on. At the moment, 5G for the common people is more of a luxury than a necessity.

Why is 5G needed more urgently in industries? Industries are always looking for “more efficient” and “more cost-effective”. Therefore, with 5G introduction, industries see an opportunity to enhance their operations even more. This is especially true with the competitiveness surrounding defining and upgrading operations to fit into the Industry 4.0 revolution.

Take an example, oil and gas companies want to use 5G as an alternative to transmit huge amount of data because fibre optic cables are too expensive to install to connect their offshore platforms to their control room and to their main server. This make some oil and gas companies to want to own their own frequency spectrum which is conflicting to the business interest of commercial mobile operators.

Anytime, Anywhere?

Also, lets look at the timeline, some countries are still in the motion of deciding which frequency spectrum to allocate for their mobile operators. The first option for spectrum allocation is the millimetre wave, in this spectrum, the signal will attenuate so much and thus can only be transmitted within short distances; hence, many more base stations will need to be installed which will cost tremendous amount of money. To make it worst, it could be something similar to your wireless router that you own. Every home will have one base station! Can you imagine, every house being practically a base station! Practically speaking, the cost will be tremendous.

What other alternatives are there? There comes another option which is the sub 6-GHz frequency spectrum that can be used as the backbone of the 4G infrastructure. The signal can travel further, and it will be cheaper because you can ride on the infrastructure for 4G. But there is one problem which is the spectrum is very limited and it may owned by satellite company. The crowded bandwidth means that there is a higher risk of interferences. Hence, telco operators and the satellite companies must find a way to solve this problem and coexist in the same spectrum. Nevertheless, this sub-6GHz frequency seems to be the most promising one and the best immediate solution for many countries in the world now.

What should we expect now? So, as of now, we need to be patience as we wait for commercial 5G to be released. They will only come to us after the next 5 years. But the wait will be worth it, for 5G will give us the IoT (Internet of Things) which connect us to and between all our appliances you can name (door, light, kitchen, etc.). Clearly, 5G will have much impact on our lives and change the way we live and interact with people. It could even steal our jobs unfortunately. For example, the idea of having smart factories means every routine jobs will be performed by robot. This is concerning for many cause they may lose their job or they may need to find new skills to survive in the next decade.

One last thing, in the past generation technologies up until 4G, the mobile operators or the telco companies are the ones that provide services or set the standard to us. We only hear the communication like “how much is the speed I am getting?” or “What can I do if I subscribe to this SIM card?”. We can never demand anything and we just use whatever they give to us.

Only now when we talk about 5G that we can be the game changer. For example, smart appliances, smart factories and smart homes, or maybe your personal smart companies, these are made based on your specifications, not the telcos! Imagine telco services knocking on our door and asking what do we need? How much data you want? This is something new, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see when this arrives.