Looking to the Next (5th) Generation
By Judy Davies, Vice President of Global Marketing Communications, Advantest
The global semiconductor business is constantly on the lookout for the “next big thing”: the mass-market killer app that will drive the next wave of market growth for our industry. While candidates abound – thanks to the continued rise of applications utilizing technologies such as flexible sensors and augmented reality – the new NBT is shaping up to be the next generation of highly efficient 5G mobile networks. Long promised and finally on the cusp of coming to market fruition, 5G will far surpass current 4G LTE technology in both its highs (speed) and lows (latency).
With more than 14 billion connected devices predicted to come into use this year (according to Gartner, Inc.), advanced 5G networks will provide the scalability and energy efficiency necessary to serve the skyrocketing amount of connections. The five major sectors that Advantest sees driving rapid development and adoption of 5G technology are automotive, medical, retail, mobile and Big Data. Each will benefit significantly from 5G’s inherent advantages, which include broader connectivity, speedier response times, greater memory capacity and – everyone’s favorite – longer battery life.
However, the new applications that 5G will enable, such as mobile broadband and massive Internet of Things (IoT) connections, will require new approaches. One key need is network slicing, which entails delivering multiple network instances (such as 4G LTE and 5G) over a single common infrastructure. This technique will provide the flexibility and cost efficiency customers demand while reducing their cost of ownership, as well as facilitating development of new networking products and services.
Another major benefit of 5G is that, while providing much faster signal speeds over greater bandwidths, it will also optimize the benefits associated with lower-speed operation – a “speed as needed” capability, as it were. In the case of IoT devices, 5G allows narrow-spectrum operation in order to achieve connectivity over greater distances while conserving power usage. Connected devices that don’t require constant monitoring, for example, can check in with the network on an as-needed basis so they are not consuming power constantly. This efficiency will go a long way toward preserving and extending battery life.
When 5G is fully implemented, signal latency will drop below 10 milliseconds, yielding network operating speeds up to 100 times faster than what we experience today. This low latency will not only benefit current applications but will also enable numerous next-generation, mission-critical applications, including industrial automation, virtual and augmented reality, online health and medical services, and aerospace and military systems.
Among the aspects of 5G that remain to be worked out is the question of industry standards. Thanks to the massive number of networked IoT devices, connectivity standards must evolve to accommodate much higher connection densities than have ever been required. Specifications indicate that 5G networks will be able to accommodate as many as 1 million connected devices packed into an area of 0.38 square mile, compared to around 2,000 such devices on today’s networks.
Advances must also be made in edge computing to avoid data overload and reduce round-trip latency. Literally, this refers to processing data near the edge of the network on smart devices instead of in a centralized cloud environment. By applying edge computing to information collected by IoT sensors, the findings can be pre-processed and only selected data passed along for central processing. This will aid in managing the immense increase in data that is coming with 5G.
The good news is that, despite these remaining hurdles, it’s clear that there is a finish line in sight. In the new 5G world, the winning companies will be those that collaborate and align with their customers to design and create 5G components that will enable the fast-approaching new world of computing and communications.