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What’s New in IoT: What Changes From 4G to 5G?

As we are well into 2020, the 5G buzz has slowed slightly, but what does 5G really mean and what will it change?

In this blog post, our CTO, Ryan Wilkinson, shares his thoughts on 5G and its impact on its predecessors, including 4G.

5th Generation cellular technology

What changes from 4G to 5G?

Well, with 28 billion connected IoT devices expected to be active by 2021, the future is going to be more connected than ever before, with the cellular network having more responsiveness and greater speeds than ever before.

5G or 5th generation cellular technology is going to have a massive impact on our world. I am going to give you some details on what is actually different, and how it relates to its predecessors:  4G (LTE/Advanced/Advanced Pro, WiMax), 3G (UMTS, WCDMA, CDMA,1xEV-DO), and 2G (GSM, GPRS, CDMA,1xRTT).

If you are reading this, chances are you have seen or heard some of the hype about 5G and how it will yield drastically faster speeds.  While that IS the case with 5G – it has a much higher top-end speed (+10Gbps) – keep in mind the actual speeds you achieve will depend on what network your device is connecting to, what device you’re using, how busy the network is,  and several other factors.

5G will not replace 4G – it will just enhance the user experience with higher speeds.

Cellular technology is a complex topic and new generations, different geographies, and the fast evolution of the technology don’t make it easy to keep track. For example, 4G has improved significantly in its lifetime with Long-Term Evolution (LTE), and then Long-Term Evolution Advanced (LTE-A). While the latest LTE-A advancements are able to deliver 1Gbps, 5G is seeking to deliver +10Gbps.

What does that mean? 1Gbps (gigabits per second) is 1,000Mbps (megabits per second). With 8 megabits (Mb) in a megabyte (MB), 1 Gbps translates to 125MB per second.

That MP3 file you used to download on Napster (#MillenialFTW), or that you now stream on Spotify, might be around 6MB, while that new NetFlix series episode might be 750MB, and a full-length HD movie being 15GB or more. So, if you were actually getting a consistent 1Gbps connection, you could potentially download a full HD quality movie in two minutes.

Netflix recommends a 25Mbps connection for Ultra HD Quality, but only 5Mbps for HD. For the most part, 4G is able to provide a realistic speed of 10Mbps to 50 Mbps today.

There are two other factors other than just speed: coverage and latency.

On the coverage side, it has taken years for 4G coverage to spread throughout the world, and there are still plenty of rural regions that still rely on the 3G networks. This will be the same for 5G. The cellular providers are going about this coverage challenge in different ways, which is very interesting. T-MO and Sprint are going to use a low-band spectrum to spread their coverage, which will yield slower speeds. AT&T and VZW are planning to use a millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, using lots of 5G nodes since this frequency has a short-range and is easily blocked by walls. Logistically, both methods will take years to get to where 4G is today.

Keep in mind, 5G will not replace 4G – it will just enhance the user experience with higher speeds. Obviously the hardware will need to get to the masses first, your current cell phone will not support the current 5G network frequencies – and that may be to your benefit, the 5G radios will use much more power, so get ready for some bigger, more powerful batteries in your phones!

Obviously the hardware will need to get to the masses first

The last topic I wanted to provide some details on is latency – that is the duration of time it takes for information to leave your device and arrive at its destination or the target server/device. This is measured in milliseconds (ms). This latency is one of the most interesting aspects of the 5G technology upgrade. Obviously, if you think of applications like a remote control drone, self-driving car, or playing video games through a cellular connection – the latency is a crucial component.

On an average 4G connection, latency is around 50ms. 5G is looking to drop that to 1ms! It takes us humans about 10ms to process an image from our eye to our brain – so this decrease in latency will open up the potential for applications like I previously mentioned where real-time reactions are imperative.

So will 5G really change the IoT world?

5G is definitely going to change the world of connecting things, and I do believe with the increase in performance on the speed and latency, this 5G technology will change the IoT landscape, while drastically eliminating copper/fiber implementations. B2C users will just have a 5G modem that will be able to serve their entire residence.

What do the changes in frequency and mmWaves mean for our health? That’s for another discussion… #comingsoon.

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