Why 5G is so very different to previous technologies
Fifth-generation mobile networks will have the same high-level architecture as previous cellular networks, but the intricate details are very different.
5G will make use of much higher frequencies for radio communications than has been used in cellular networks in the past. Since higher frequencies attenuate (weaken) with distance more rapidly than lower frequencies, 5G will use much smaller cell sizes than previous generations. In urban areas, cell sizes might only be a few hundred metres in diameter.
5G will also support very large numbers of devices per cell. One of the working parties developing 5G standards specifies a minimum of one million devices per square kilometre. Being able to support such large numbers of devices is important for the “Internet of things” — where household devices and machinery are also connected to the Internet.
5G will make use of sophisticated signal processing techniques such as Multi Input, Multi Output (Mimo) antennae, which will improve the efficient use of bandwidth.
Another significant change for 5G will be to centralise much of the processing that in the past was carried out at the base stations. Dealing with the high density of devices and doing sophisticated processing requires a great deal of computing power. Rather than having each base station doing it, the raw data will be transmitted to a central location and be processed there.
Plans are for peak data rates of around 20Gbit/s down to the receiver, and 10Gbit/s up to the base station. The delay (the time taken to get a packet from the mobile device to the base station) will for most users be less than four milliseconds.
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