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November 15, 2018

Are You Prepared for the 5G Data Crush?


The introduction of fifth generation wireless technology in 2019 and 2020 will provide a big speed boost to mobile networks, on the order of 100x or more. All that extra bandwidth (not to mention lower latencies) will be a boon for consumers, who will be presented with all manner of new entertainment options. But 5G will also bring new opportunities and challenges for enterprises. Companies that start preparing now will hold the advantage.

The current 4G networks currently deliver around 4-12 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth, with peak download speeds reaching up to 50 Mbps, on spectrum from 600 Mhz to about 5Ghz. That’s about the same speed that a typical cable or DSL Internet customer can expect at home.

The new 5G specifications that are under consideration offer significantly higher data speeds. For example, the ITU IMT-2020 specification calls for speeds up to 20 Gbps, which is more than 2,000 times faster than current 4G specs. However, the data rates that users are expected to experience will be much lower – in the 1 Gbps range, which is “only” about 100x faster than the typical bandwidth found with 4G handsets.

Because signals drop off with higher frequencies, many MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas will need to be deployed to support 5G

Latency – or the time it takes for a packet to be sent – is also expected to improve dramatically with 5G, which are slated to occupy wireless frequencies up 24 Ghz (lower frequency 5G signals will offer about the same bandwidth as 4G). The IMT-2020 spec calls for latencies in 5G networks to be as low as 1 millisecond, although 5 milliseconds is probably a better real-world guess. Still, that’s about 25 times better than the current 125 millisecond latency that’s common for 4G networks.

Consumers will be the big winners of these fast new data highways, at least initially. A full-length movie shot in high-definition, which has a file size of around 1.25 GB, could be downloaded in one second on a 20 Gbps network. Even if the 5G network is 20 times slower, waiting 20 seconds to get your copy “Father of the Year” on your phablet is nothing to sneeze at (unless you’re allergic to bad movies, of course).

A 5G network will also be required equipment for next-generation entertainment options, particularly the virtual reality and augmented reality setups that we’ve been promised. With a big enough data pipe, we’ll be able to immerse ourselves in alternate digital realities and games, and interact with other people in new ways.

Having so many bits flying through the air will likely require your telecommunications provider to make some hefty investments in new network and storage gear. We’ve already seen how Netflix, whose content occupies 15% of the Internet’s bandwidth at any given time, has made massive investments in its content delivery network (CDN). Without a big boost in the capacity of the Internet itself, a super-fast 5G network delivering the “last mile” of connectivity has the potential to create a digital traffic jam.

Assuming Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile can handle that data crush, the benefits of 5G for other business can be great. Any companies that are collecting and analyzing consumer data today should be able to gather even more highly detailed data with a 5G network, assuming no additional data regulations, like Europe’s GDPR, get in the way.

5G will accelerate the adoption of augmented reality (TierneyMJ/Shutterstock)

The big players are already moving to prepare for the coming data tsunami that 5G networks will unleash. Samsung Electronics, for example, has committed to investing $22 billion into 5G and AI initiative.

5G is “oxygen” for AI, Youngky Kim, the president and head of Samsung’s network business, said today at a Wall Street Journal event in California. “AI needs a lot of data to respond to you,” Kim said, according to a story on ZDNet. “This amount of data can be provided by 5G, not 4G.”

Some 5G networks are being rolled out already, including one set up for the Winter Olympic Games held earlier this year in Pyeonchang, South Korea. Samsung, which surpassed Intel to become the world’s largest chipmaker last year, is also one of the world’s major providers of network gear, and expects its 5G equipment to account for 20% of sales by 2020. It’s already selling 5G network gear for enterprises, ahead of the consumer rollout that’s expected to start in 2019.

Intel is ramping up its 5G products too. Last week the company announced that the launch of consumer 5G modem that supports 6Gbps speeds has been moved up six months, and will become available in the second half of 2019. Verizon, which is already selling its “First on 5G” home network plan, has also been testing its 28 Ghz 5G network in Rhode Island with a Samsung handset equipped with a 5G modem from Qualcomm. It’s expected to start selling 5G-upgradable phones in 2019.

Self-driving cars could benefit from 5G — and it could even enable remote-controlled cars

The availability of a super-fast network will make all sorts of new applications possible. A 5G network of connected automobiles has the potential to share much more fine-grained details about road conditions, not to mention in-car entertainment options or even remote controlled cars. In the wider IoT world, bigger pipes will expand what’s possible with drones, robots, and other edge devices. Some have even theorized that the greater resolution enabled by 5G networks could hasten the arrival of remote surgery centers, where doctors operate on patients remotely using haptic feedback.

“The coming 5G wave offers companies across all industries the opportunity to seize the power of data for universal business impact,” says David Flower, CEO of VoltDB, a NewSQL database provider. “5G will fundamentally change how we build applications, making DevOps and agility a requirement in today’s enterprise, as organizations strive to more rapidly spin up resources and build applications to cost-effectively meet evolving customer and market demands. With this immense increase in throughput and data volume, scalability has become a priority.”

It will be interesting to see how 5G impacts computer architectures going forward. On the one hand, it could be seen boosting centralized processing of data. If the penalty of moving many gigabytes or terabytes to the cloud is small, then 5G could actually put a damper on edge computing.

On the other hand, if 5G evolves into a underlying communication fabric that links data centers with edge devices, then it could end up boosting edge computing. In this scenario, which was put forward by the folks at Tractica, the storage and processing required for AI and other workloads is shared across the fabric, enabling developers to take better advantage of available resources.

There’s no telling exactly how things will shake out with 5G. But some things are certain: The data is about to get bigger and it’s going to get faster. There’s no doubt about that.

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