What is 5G?

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Did you ever wonder, what is 5G anyway? What does that mean to me? If you’re not interested in technology, then it’s just another buzz word, but if you’re reading this, then you asked the question.


The 5G network, as of 2016, is still being defined. What we do know is that it will not be like 2G, 3G, or 4G because it will be more than the format, spectrum, speed, or even the equipment. Let me break it down for you.

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Can we define 5G? Let’s look at the Wikipedia definition of 5G, found here, “5G (5th generation mobile networks or 5th generation wireless systems) denotes the proposed next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards beyond the current 4G/IMT-Advanced standards. 5G planning includes Internet connection speeds faster than current 4G, and other improvements.”  So what does that mean? It’s more than just a network connection or a format. It will include the connection to the internet, the connections to each device, the broad-spectrum of devices used in the network.

Quick history recap:

  • Older formats were defined by what they could do but we really just looked at the wireless format. We looked at 3G as GSM or CDMA. We were looking at 4G as the next generation which was LTE as chosen by the carriers because it is the Long Term Evolution of wireless.
  • Then when going to 4G it was a competition between WCDMA and WiMAX and LTE, LTE clearly won the battle. All the carriers went with LTE. This helped them make the equipment and deployments more of a commodity which saves them money. The evolved packet core made it easier to distribute the radios and split up the core. The all IP system matched what most networks are today making the transfer of data more efficient and clean.
  • So why improve? Because we’re human, that’s what we do, advance. In this case it was the end-user’s insatiable demand for data that has pushed out 3G pretty quick, costing network operators a lot of money in upgrades to get to an all IP LTE system. Thanks to the iPhone, the mobile device changed forever!
  • The big difference? It’s the network! Going to 5G is more than just the wireless format, it’s all about the network and the combination of networks. Back when 4G was coming out there was this concept, the HetNet, that was introduced. The Heterogeneous Network is a concept that came from the computer world where, according to Wikipedia, “using different access technologies. For example, a wireless network which provides a service through a wireless LAN and is able to maintain the service when switching to a cellular network is called a wireless heterogeneous network”.

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The HetNet is the game changer along with new speeds and spectrum and formats. When looking at the system you could have macro sites and small cells, LTE and Wi-Fi and perhaps another format all working together as one big happy network where the end-user has no idea what network they are on. You could be in any spectrum, 600MHz, 700MHz, 1.9GHz, 2.5GHz, 24GHz, 28GHz, 60GHz or another band which could be allocated to 5G. You could even be in the unlicensed spectrum running Wi-Fi or LTE-U or a lightly licensed band like 3.65GHz, the CBRS, here in the states. The end-user may notice the change in speed but not the format or spectrum change. In fact, I would believe the end-user won’t care unless they see a big change is speed, or quality of experience, (QoE). Seriously, do you even think about it unless voice is crappy or the download rate is painfully slow or you lose connection altogether?

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So, what is 5G? It’s the combination all the network encompasses. It will be all of the parts put together to make the speeds super-fast. Now, you’re probably wondering how we will get there. Lucky I put together this list for you to see how we will improve speeds.

  • Carrier aggregation – what this is the method used to aggregate carrier, which is explained by 3GPP here. What that means is that carriers used now can be combined in the equipment to look like one big pipe of bandwidth. It is advancing, currently I have seen 3 carriers all put together but it should grow to 6 or 7 in the near future allowing the pipes to be bigger.
  • Carrier aggregation with unlicensed bands – I thought I would throw this in there because it is very different that normal carrier aggregation. I will tell you why! Licensed aggregation is from the same BTS making it easy to aggregate but the unlicensed aggregation like LAA and LWA is combining spectrum from a BTS and some unlicensed access point. That makes it much more complicated and I have to give the OEMs so much credit to do this. In the UE device they can put it together and it seems that Qualcomm figured out how to do it in the device.
  • Massive MIMO – that’s right, the antennas are making a difference. I know, it’s more than the antenna but let’s just point out that it’s a team effort between the radio and the antenna to shove even more bit per second in the same bandwidth. There is a high-level overview here. I am not going to get into the technical details but the beam forming technology and the way that one antenna will have hundreds of antennas in it that can focus on one user, is amazing. I remember that Ruckus has high-tech antenna technology in the Wi-Fi spectrum which really set them apart from their competition. The antennas will push data to new limits in 5G systems.
  • Improvements in LTE – the formats are improving but bandwidth is limited in today’s spectrum so this is reaching its limit. However, we now have LTE-Advanced, which is being released in networks in 2016. This includes much of the services that are listed here. However, if the radios don’t improve then we don’t’ advance or evolve.
  • New spectrum – the spectrum is coming in bigger bandwidths for the carriers to put together. We no longer see carrier use 1MHz carriers, but they are looking for 5, 10, and 20MHz carriers. When the “5G” spectrum in the mmwave, (millimeter wave), is released they will have 20 MHz channels and higher. So imagine a carrier has 100MHz of bandwidth on one carrier and they can dedicate that to a limited number of users and they can aggregate it with 3 other 100MHz wide carriers to provide 400Mhz of bandwidth in the same spectrum. This is what the 24GHz and higher spectrum will accommodate. Would that compete with cable for home internet access? I think so, as a fixed wireless system where we no longer have to run cables or fiber to a house or business. If only the carriers would work out a flat-fee unlimited data plan for users that would rival the cable companies plans without the TV channels.

Scope of Work defined in this tutorial.

Now, I went over the wireless improvements but as you know it’s more about the network which includes the backhaul and core. Did I say backhaul and core? You know it’s more than that!

  • SDN – Software Defined Networking which makes the routing architecture smarter and more efficient. If you want to learn more start here.
  • NFV – Network Function Virtualization used SDN to make the network virtual. That will make the network functions work closer to the user. Learn more here.
  • Cloud Computing – here is where the applications are brought closer to the user, lower latency and improved customer experience to the point where the network sees less congestion. Learn more here. So where is the cloud? It should be in a server near you. They could be anywhere in a data room set up to serve you and they should be able to work anywhere.
  • Fog computing – this is taking the cloud and shoving it as close to the end-user as possible, to the edge. This is where the IOT will be able to make smart decisions in very little time, low latency. I found a good explanation here.
  • Cloud RAN – C-RAN is where the RAN will not have a local BBU, but a virtual BBU. Similar to CRAN which is Centralized RAN which is where the BBU hotel is remote and fiber connected the BBU to each radio head which could be using CPRI or another format. The limitation with this is that the fiber needs to be dedicated fiber for each radio head. I have an article here, but I want you to realize that if you are in the industry then CRAN and C-RAN are very different, ask any OEM or carrier. Cloud RAN is where the BBU function is more virtual whereas Centralized RAN has a direct physical connection to the BBU. Get it?

5G will encompass new applications, new ways to use the Het Net. New DAS 101 Distributed Antenna System: A Basic Guide to In-Building Wireless Infrastructure by [Baasan, Soyola]ways to get the processing power to the edge of the network using the cloud and even fog technologies. I think that we have to change the paradigm of the wireless network. It won’t be long until we have fixed wireless providing internet access to homes to replace the cable modems we need now. Operators will have more than 10Mbps backhaul for wireless cells, small or macro. It won’t be long until they need 1Gbps to 10Gbps to 100Gbps to satisfy the needs of the end-user.

So now we have 5G. This is going to be Get the Wireless Deployment Handbook today!more than just a new format or a higher speed. It will be a combination of formats with so much more included. We will see 5G specific applications that will shape the network. We will see the networking equipment be a requirement, the cloud, even fog computing will be part of all of this.

Think about what we will see with 5G, artificial intelligence on the network, virtual reality anywhere, and so many new applications that we can’t even think of yet.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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