Quick Summary of 5G Technology (3 Frequently Asked Questions Answered)
- What Is Latency?
- What Is Massive IoT?
- What Is Non-Standalone Architecture?
Because 5G isn’t yet mainstream, there’s a lot of questions about it floating around the internet. Unfortunately, there are lots of half-truths and speculation presented as hard answers. Our next two articles are dedicated to answering 6 of the most commonly-asked questions related to 5G technology. We’ll answer 3 questions here and another 3 in our next post.
In this article, we’ll cover the concepts of latency, massive IoT, and non-standalone architecture. Even if you don’t know any of these topics, the fact that you’re reading this article means you have an above-average interest in 5G. If that’s the case, these are important concepts you should know.
1. What Is Latency?
Here’s a simple, short-sentence definition of latency from Verizon.com:
“Latency is the time required for a set of data to travel between two points.”
In other words, how long it takes for you to see a response from whatever command you input into your device. High latency means response time is long. Lots of lagging and loading. In a word: frustration. Low latency means a fast response time. If you have the newest mobile device on the market and live in an area with a quality signal, you’re likely experiencing really low latency. And of course, you love it.
When 5G hits, network latency will be lower than anything anyone has experienced …ever. This is perhaps the main reason to be excited about this upcoming technology. It will quite literally transform our everyday lives. Online gaming will become a whole new experience. Live sports streaming will be incredible.
The many aspects of our lives that 5G latency will effect goes way beyond movies, music, and games. Consider the advances in augmented reality and virtual reality. What kinds of doors will this open to the medical industry and procedures that save lives? Think about the manufacturing industry and how the near-complete absence of lag time will transform their operations.
Some other areas of interest that 5G technology will most certainly enhance significantly: drone operations, smart grid management, remote healthcare, automotive, financial services, hospitality, retail, media/entertainment. And there are so many more.
What’s Preventing 5G From Being Released Now?
Most of the reasons have to do with infrastructure. To be more specific, in order for 5G to work, non-standalone architecture has to be constructed. (More on that in the third section). It’s called that because though the technology is different than LTE, it still requires the existence of base stations, like what’s used for an LTE tower, to operate. The building and updating of these structures is on-going. But, for now, the network your phone is utilizing is a 4G LTE network (most likely). But from everything we know, the 5G rollout is will be ongoing for several years. Late 2020, at this point, seems to be when it will reach a lot of the population, but the buildout will take a lot longer to reach everyone. Soon enough though, 5G core architecture (as it’s sometimes called) will be the default for everyone, but 4G LTE isn’t going away anytime soon as it remains the default when no 5G is available.
What Is Upswitching?
This is another 5G-related term that’s important to know.
When 5G becomes widely available, all mobile devices, etc, won’t automatically transition. As mentioned above, 4G LTE will still be the default for a while to come. However, there will be certain data tasks that you can perform that will require 5G. In these cases, your phone will upswitch to 5G. Think of it like a car switching from a lower gear to a higher one, but it doesn’t happen in an instant. There will be noticeable lag time (e.g. high latency) to perform 5G tasks from a 4G LTE device. The upswitch will happen at the moment you engage 5G. But once you’ve “locked-in” to 5G, the upswitch is over and you’re in.
This won’t be permanent, though. Eventually, as more 5G towers are built and the technology becomes ubiquitous through people upgrading to 5G devices, upswitching won’t be necessary. But in the beginning, experts expect that users will be required to deal with upswitching to one degree or another. However, we suspect that the inconvenience will be minimal when compared to the amazing latency your device will lock into once the upswitch has completed.
2. What Is Massive IoT?
Here’s a really good definition of massive IoT from ericsson.com:
“Massive IoT refers to applications that are less latency-sensitive and have relatively low throughput requirements, but require a huge volume of low-cost, low-energy consumption devices on a network with excellent coverage.”
This definition might seem complex if this is the first time you’re hearing about it. But don’t worry. We’ll explain it in simpler terms.
Lots people refer to Massive IoT as “the internet of things”. It’s a much less-technical way of putting it. Basically, it’s when many network-connected devices are communicating with each other to perform tasks. Here are some examples of massive IoT in action:
- You say, “Alexa, send driving directions from my current location to the nearest Taco Bell to my phone.”
- You’re at work and your home security app notifies you that someone has just rung your doorbell.
- You’re at the grocery store and realize you forgot to pre-heat the oven. You use your smart home app (which is connected to your smart oven) to set the oven temperature.
There are a lot more examples we could give, but hopefully, you get the idea. Massive IoT is a fancy term referring to a bunch of devices connected to the internet or a mobile network that are all interacting with each other.
How Will 5G Affect Massive IoT?
When 5G surfaces, the capacity of what is possible will skyrocket. Increased bandwidth, low latency, and high speeds associated with 5G mean the arms IoT (internet of things) will reach further than ever. It’s estimated that within 2-3 years of 5G rolling out, the number of devices that will be supported will be in the tens of billions. Imagine what will be capable ten years from then.
The magnitude of what’s possible with massive IoT is hard to imagine. It’s possible that quite literally everything could be affected. Take, for example, eating dinner with your family. Within a handful of years, 5G’s influence on massive IoT could play a role in every stage of the process of putting food on the table. From the farm to your dining room. From sensors that aid crop-growing to smart tech involved with transportation systems that get food from the farm to the grocery store to smart factories that make all the smart appliances in your kitchen to the voice-command tech inside your kitchen equipment. The direct digital communication between all of these things – and you having direct control over most of it – is not far in the future.
Think of similar possibilities in retail stores, security systems, utility infrastructure, construction, public transit, office spaces, and more. The possibilities are endless.
3. What Is Non-Standalone Architecture?
As we mentioned in the first section, 5G won’t roll out and immediately take over. 3G and 4G LTE will still be the primary networks on most devices. Though they will have the capability to upswitch to 5G for certain tasks. The main reason for this is because 5G utilizes what is called non-standalone architecture (NSA).
Non-standalone architecture is the name given because 5G towers still require the support of existing LTE structures in order to function properly. This point is key: In order to facilitate a smooth transition from the existing technology to this more advanced one, 5G is being “added” to LTE. Rather than replacing it altogether. This has allowed 5G to be in development as long as is needed. It also avoids any major hiccups in the transition.
Will 5G Ever Not Need The LTE Infrastructure To Operate?
Yes. That is the plan. Sometime in the next couple years 5G is expected to become its own master, so to speak. There are areas of the world where 5G is underway. These include some areas of the United Kingdom, South Korea, and the United States. Remember, though, that LTE is still the default mode, even in these areas mentioned. In the future, like by 2024-2025, that will change.
Is Non-Standalone Architecture The Only Option?
Technically, no. But it was generally chosen, industry-wide, as the best way to transition to a 5G world. NSA operates as a sort of bridge between 4G LTE technology and 5G. Through NSA, big networks like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are able to still utilize their existing networks while large-scale 5G service is developed.
Developing 5G via non-standalone architecture also allows these companies to stay at the cutting edge of the market. Meaning they can offer products that feature the latest 5G updates as they become available. Even if those updates are on a small-scale compared to what will eventually become full-scale 5G.
However, there are two minor disadvantages to 5G’s NSA approach: upswitching (which we’ve talked about already) and data transfer. These disadvantages very well may be necessary evils on the path leading to widespread 5G latency. Depending on how you look at it.
We discussed upswitching in the first section, so refer to that section for a basic explanation.
Data transfer, the second disadvantage, is in reference to how connections are passed from one tower to another. When a connection transfer becomes necessary as you and your device move around, short interruptions result. This is because the LTE network is still the master, even though your 5G-capable device pushes toward 5G in some instances. These interruptions can range from hardly noticeable to really noticeable depending on the scenario.
Though we called these disadvantages, our opinion is that most of the time, they’re negligible. Research and customer feedback have led us to that conclusion.
Some Service Providers Are Holding Out For Standalone 5G
There are some companies out there that are not participating in 5G development via non-standalone architecture. Instead, they’re waiting for 5G standalone (SA). They feel that waiting for a 5G network that doesn’t depend on LTE – which is inevitable – will put them in a better position. True, they will not be the “first to market”. But the assumed trade-off is that they’ll be better able to deliver market-use cases and more powerfully deliver on new applications. Time will tell as to whose approach was best.
5G Technology (3 Frequently Asked Questions Answered) – Conclusion
In our next article, we’ll address three more commonly-asked questions related to 5G. (1) What’s the difference between mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum? (2) What Are Mission-Critical Applications? And (3) What is Fixed Wireless Access? 5G is going to upgrade all of our lives in a big way. The more we all know about it, the better.
Visit SureCall’s blog and case study pages regularly for up-to-date information on all things 5G. As well as anything related to cell phone signal boosters and a whole lot more.