For several years now, the telecommunications world has been abuzz with the development of 5G. Even while 4G LTE was still getting deployed around the world, the discussions on 5G were also well underway. Finally, the standards for 5G NR (New Radio) are out. The non-standalone standard, which can ride on 4G LTE networks, was released last Dec 2017 while the standalone standard was released last June 2018. Manufacturers within the 5G ecosystem can now develop their own hardware and software that will be able to seamlessly work with others following the same standard.
What is 5G?
The term 5G simply means it’s the 5th generation of mobile technology (and the term 5G NR is the standard by which it is based on). Recall that 1G introduced voice calls, 2G brought text messaging, 3G opened up the internet, and 4G LTE enabled HD videos. What then will 5G bring? It is touted to bring the massive Internet of Things (IoT) with its much higher speeds, low latency, and network slicing as some its key features (see graph).
Today, we interact with each other, the internet, and some of our devices already provide us immediate feedback. With 5G, a massive number of devices can be enabled to interact with each other at different levels, simultaneously.
Compared to today’s 4G LTE, 5G aims to deliver 10 to 100x faster data rates. Speeds of up to 10Gbps is what the standard mandates. Mind boggling as it may sound, just think of downloading a whole season of your favorite series in seconds. Hence at optimum levels, this speed is even faster than your current fiber optic speed connection.
Today’s latency on a good network is about 20 to 30 milliseconds. That’s how long it will take for you to get a response once you click a button. Sounds fast, but not as fast when you have to do life-changing and life-saving activities. With 5G, latency can be reduced to up to just 1 millisecond. That’s very near real time and faster than any human response time. Now imagine playing an intense video game with that kind of latency.
Network slicing and virtualization are key components to 5G that most people in the industry are excited about. It allows not only multiple devices to interact with the network simultaneously, but also give these devices the kind of connection they need – some would need high throughput rates, some low latency, etc. 5G will now work like having (virtual) multiple networks riding on a single physical network infrastructure.
What Can 5G Bring?
What it can potentially bring as services are things we’ve all imagined in the future. Use cases being discussed and tested include: self-driving cars, virtual and augmented realities, and telemedicine applications such as remote surgery. It can also make the fully-connected home a reality, and introduce connected city developments. Net, it is not just about faster speeds but how that kind of speed, coupled with low latency and high responsiveness of the devices connected to each other at different levels of service, can significantly alter the way we do things in the future.
Like in any new technology, there are however concerns. Foremost in the consumer advocacy world is the potential health risks that this may bring. The concern comes from the fact that in order for the 5G promise to be delivered, it will require multiple equipment to be installed much closer together (called small cell towers). How the radiation coming from these towers can possibly increase risks for cancer, headaches, sleep disorders etc. are currently unknown but are being highlighted. However, as a technology, the radiation from cell towers are non-ionizing, which is similar to the radiation emitted by household appliances like the microwave. The verdict isn’t out yet on this as you can find articles for and against it on any given day, and there has been no real, comprehensive study done to support either side.
The more pressing concern for consumers would really be the cost to use these services. Do you have to buy a new phone or device? Yes. How much will it cost? Still unknown at this point but likely to cost $100-$200 or maybe even higher at the start before mid-range and affordable options become available. Will you get to have a self-driving car in 2019? Not likely. This will come together with connected city developments (i.e., cities built with 5G infrastructure in place and can therefore support its multiple applications).
Telecommunication operators, on the other hand, are concerned about the business models behind 5G. Not only will it require new network investments for them but also data architectures and platforms that support virtualization. How these can then be translated into services that users are willing to pay for becomes the challenge.
5G on Guam
It is great news for Guam that both IT&E and Docomo Pacific have announced that they will be deploying 5G in the 2019. In September 2018, IT&E announced that it has partnered with SK Telecom, Korea’s largest telecom provider, to allow the early launch of 5G in Guam and CNMI. SK Telecom’s investment of $33M into IT&E makes it the second largest investor of the company. More than just the huge investment, IT&E highlighted that the partnership aims to bring synergies in its 5G deployment, IoT offers from SK Telecoms that are applicable to the Guam and CNMI markets, and the overall tourist experience of Koreans in the region as a start.
Last December 2018, Docomo Pacific announced that Guam will be the 4th test lab center of NTT Docomo’s 5G deployment (after Tokyo, Osaka and Okinawa in Japan). This will bring in Guam as a 5G test lab and verification center to more than 1,900 of its Open Lab partners worldwide. This is exciting since real life applications of the technology can actually be tested right here on Guam. The test lab is expected to be up by first quarter of 2019 in its Tamuning headquarters.
All these point out to the fact that while 5G is coming, there is still a lot of work that needs to get done before its promise can become a reality. But what it brings is a whole new ball game to Guam with the consumers as the primary beneficiaries of this new technology.
About this post: Aside from my regular column on Pacific Island Times, I was asked to write a news feature on 5G to explain what 5G is and its possible implications for the Marianas region. Press releases made by Docomo Pacific and IT&E, two Marianas-based telecom providers, confirmed their investments on 5G in 2019. I wrote this last Dec 16, 2018 for the January publication of Pacific Island Times.