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5G technology marks a significant leap in wireless communication, offering faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliability than its predecessors. Understanding how 5G works involves looking at several key components that differentiate it from earlier generations of mobile networks. 

Let’s discuss how 5G works and what the benefits are.

First, What is 5G Technology?

5G technology, representing the fifth generation of cellular networks, is a significant advancement over its predecessor, 4G. 

It is specifically designed to deliver a massive leap in speed and efficiency, with potential speeds up to 20 gigabits per second (Gbps) and average speeds expected to exceed one gigabit per second (Gbps) in practical scenarios. A hallmark feature of 5G is its remarkably low latency, potentially as low as 1 millisecond (ms), which is a drastic improvement over 4G's latency. This reduction in delay is critical for enabling real-time applications, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and seamless video conferencing.

In the Australian context, 5G is now covering over 85% of the Australian population, being available in over 400 cities and towns.

How does 5G differ from a fixed wireless connection? Here's a direct comparison of 5G and fixed wireless technologies based on key aspects.

The technology 

  • 5G is a cellular network technology that supports a wide array of devices beyond smartphones.
  • Fixed wireless is a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint wireless communication for internet access.

Deployment

  • 5G utilises a dense array of small cells plus traditional cell towers for widespread coverage.
  • Fixed wireless involves a base station that directly communicates with a fixed antenna at the user's location.

Frequency 

  • 5G operates across low, mid, and high-band frequencies, including millimetre waves.
  • Fixed wireless typically uses lower frequency bands compared to 5G's high-band spectrum.

Coverage and range

  • 5G coverage is varied with low-band offers wide coverage, high-band (millimetre wave) provides high speed but limited range and penetration.
  • Fixed wireless generally offers wider coverage per base station but can be affected by physical obstacles.

Speed

  • 5G offers up potential for extremely high speeds, especially in high-band frequencies.
  • Whereas fixed wireless speeds are generally consistent, but may not reach the peak speeds possible with 5G high-band.

Latency (lag time)

  • 5G boasts low latency, particularly beneficial for real-time applications and IoT.
  • Fixed wireless has higher latency than 5G, but still suitable for most internet activities.

Cost

  • High due to the need for a dense deployment of cell sites, especially for urban areas.
  • Lower in comparison, as fewer base stations can cover larger areas.

This comparison illustrates that while both 5G and Fixed Wireless aim to provide high-speed internet access, they serve different niches based on their deployment strategies, technology foundations, and targeted use cases. 

5G's broad spectrum and low latency support a wide range of futuristic applications, whereas fixed wireless offers a practical solution for immediate broadband needs in areas less served by wired infrastructure.

One of the main benefits of fixed wireless technology, is that users can enjoy up to four times faster connection speeds than with traditional cable-based services. Setup is simple and quick. An antenna is installed at your place, to communicate with a local provider network towers.

Increased Speed and Efficiency

5G networks use advanced radio technology and wider bandwidth frequencies, specifically in the millimetre-wave spectrum, to achieve speeds that can be up to 100 times faster than 4G. This means quicker downloads, smoother streaming, and more efficient internet usage.

Lower Latency

Latency refers to the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. 5G dramatically reduces this delay, achieving latency as low as 1 millisecond compared to 4G's 50 milliseconds. This improvement opens up possibilities for real-time applications, virtual reality, and autonomous driving.

Network Slicing

5G introduces the concept of network slicing, which allows for the creation of multiple virtual networks within a single physical 5G network. This capability enables wireless operators to provide portions of their networks for specific uses, such as more secure slices for law enforcement or prioritised slices for critical services like remote surgeries.

Improved Connectivity

5G networks can support a higher number of connected devices than previous generations. This is crucial for the Internet of Things (IoT), supporting everything from smart home devices to city-wide IoT applications without compromising performance.

Denser Network Infrastructure

5G requires a denser network of cells to deliver its high-speed connectivity. These cells can be as small as a shoebox and are placed in more locations to ensure coverage and capacity for users. This denser infrastructure is supported by 5G's ability to utilise frequencies that have been impractical for mobile communication in the past.

Use of MIMO Technology

Massive Input Massive Output (MIMO) technology significantly increases the capacity of wireless connections by using multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication performance. 5G networks use this technology more extensively than 4G, enabling them to handle more simultaneous users.

What are Some of the Concerns Around 5G?

Concerns around 5G technology encompass a range of issues, from health and environmental impacts to security and privacy.

  • There are concerns about the potential health impacts of increased exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) with 5G, as it uses higher frequency waves than previous generations and will involve a denser network of cell sites.
  • The infrastructure expansion required for 5G, including the increased number of cell sites and the energy consumption of these networks, raises concerns about its environmental footprint.
  • 5G's ability to support a significantly higher number of connected devices increases the potential attack surface for cyber threats, raising concerns about data privacy and network security.
  • The high cost of deploying 5G infrastructure, including the need for new cell sites and upgraded equipment, raises concerns about the digital divide, potentially leaving rural and low-income areas without access to the benefits of 5G.

Key Points and Benefits of 5G

  • Significantly faster data download and upload speeds compared to 4G.
  • Dramatically reduced response times, enabling real-time applications.
  • Supports more connected devices simultaneously, crucial for IoT growth.
  • More reliable mobile connections in crowded areas.
  • Wider availability of bandwidth for a better user experience.
  • Allows for customised networks to meet specific needs or services.
  • More efficient signalling for lower energy consumption.
  • Advanced technologies improve coverage, even in challenging environments.

In summary, 5G technology works by combining advanced radio frequency technology, wider bandwidths, lower latency, network slicing for customised usage, and massive connectivity improvements. This combination supports a vast array of applications, from enhanced mobile broadband to mission-critical communications, and massive IoT deployments, paving the way for future innovations in digital technology.

Marshall Thurlow is Director and Founder of Orion Marketing Pty Ltd. He is a digital marketer with expertise in SEO, website design, content marketing and project management. 

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