Driving faster connectivity in a digital world

Technology | 0 comments

Nov 24, 2016


We’ve come a long way since Nordic Mobile Telephone introduced the first 1G system in 1981. This was followed by 2G in 1992, 3G in 2001 and 4G in 2012. We live in a more mobile world than ever before, with the International Telecoms Union predicting that there will be more mobile phones than people by 2014. Consumers use their phones to listen to music, stream videos, video chat with their friends and share content via social media. And their data connectivity expectations are changing. They aren’t happy to wait five minutes for a video to load. The introduction of 4G in 2012 is the first step in achieving this faster connectivity but companies like Huawei are pushing this even further by working on 5G problems. Karen McCandless finds out more from Huawei research fellow Tong Wen. 

The key driving force behind the development of 5G services is customer demand and the rise of what is known as big data

With 4G still in the early stages of adoption, why is Huawei already exploring 5G?

Innovation is a continuous journey with overlapping development cycles. Huawei began working on 5G in 2009, the same year the first commercial 4G network went live in the Nordics.  Developing next-generation technologies like 5G is a complex task. They require agreed engineering standards to be reached across the global industry so that the various elements of the 5G network – from base stations and handsets and core network equipment – can work seamlessly together to agreed standards, regardless of the company or country where the components are developed or used.

Huawei is currently engaged in detailed discussions with customers, partners, competitors and policymakers to ensure that clear and shared agreement for the development of 5G are reached that we can all work towards. This will take some time, debate and discussion.

What are the driving forces behind its development?

The key driving force behind the development of 5G services is customer demand and the rise of what is known as big data, Customers want faster and faster connections that allow them to do more things online, faster. We live in an era of big data where people create and access huge data volumes online. In this world, 4G provides a step-change improvement over what 3G can deliver. 5G will provide a further step-change when it becomes available commercially from 2020.

Up until now, mobile networks have mostly connected people with networks. Increasingly, 4G and 5G will also connect billions or even trillions of ‘things’ worldwide, from domestic automation systems and home appliances to vehicles on the road and trains on the railways. This is often referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’. 

What exactly will 5G networks involve, how will they work and what kind of speeds of data transmission will they enable?

5G networks will still include the type of base station technology that connects devices to the mobile network and customers to the internet but the technology in the network will be able to transmit data much faster over a different type of network architecture. 5G networks will rely heavily on an architecture based on cloud computing, where the power of supercomputers and virtualisation in the network will unleash the power of software-defined network technology and enable a much faster and more open innovation for a vast range of new service and applications. 5G networks will not only connect everything but will exploit big data technology to bring our work and life into a new wave of digital society. 

4G networks today are capable of delivering data speeds of up to 100Mbps. 5G, we believe, will be capable of data speeds of 10Gbps, 100 times faster than today’s fastest 4G networks. A network running at 10Gbps is capable of downloading a high definition movie in one second and of providing a true-to-life 3D teleconferencing.

But 5G networks will be about more than speed. They will also be designed to provide customers and things with the most reliable connections and will achieve this while consuming lower levels of energy.

 What barriers are there to the development of 5G?

There remain many barriers to 5G. Most are technological, such as how to engineer network technology and architectures capable of handling much higher data volumes and transmission speeds with many more users on the network. By 2020, many technical breakthroughs have to happen to make this a reality.  

Another key barrier is in the public policy space, which is how to make available the spectrum and the airwaves over which mobile data travels – which are licensed to carriers by governments around the world – and how to make that spectrum more efficient.

What work is Huawei doing in this area?

Today, around 200 Huawei engineers are focused full time on 5G development looking at all aspects from hardware and software development to spectrum and wireless radio  architectures, new air interface designs, new modems and next-generation multi-antenna technologies.

As a founding member, Huawei has established a 5G innovation centre in the UK to conduct 5G tests. We are also engaged in 5G development programmes in China and with the European Commission. 

When do you think 5G might feasibly be up and running on devices?

We expect the first commercial 5G networks will become available by 2020 and that 5G will reach its market peak between 2030 and 2040. In terms of handsets, 5G users will need to replace their handsets and use 5G-enabled handsets to access 5G services

How will 5G change the world we live in, what kind of communications innovation will it enable, and will it help work towards the vision of ‘smart cities’?

The 5G future will be defined by a new systematic intelligence: human and machine intelligence integrated around big data analytics. For example, this will mean real-time data that details and supports the movement of people, cargo, vehicles and routes integrated with intelligent ICT systems to make intelligent transportation, intelligent supply chains and self-driving vehicles a reality.

Similarly, the real-time translation will leverage the power of language and culture to enable machines to understand the human thought process and break through the barriers of language. It could mean teachers will be able to teach a class of a million children online at the same time rather than 20 in a classroom.

5G will underpin smart cities, smart transport and a smart society.

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