Beyond 5G: Seeking Solutions for the Coming Data Deluge
5G has the potential to redefine our understanding of networking, but only if we prepare our entire IT infrastructure for a new era in connectivity.
While the tech world can be prone to hyperbole, there’s a case to be made that industry insiders’ characterization of 5G connectivity as a paradigm-shifting development is, if anything, conservative. As AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan points out, “Experiences such as virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities, and more are about to test networks like never before…[and] 5G will help make them a reality.”
In fact, preliminary deployments of 5G technology suggest that wireless carriers will soon be able to provide mobile internet speeds of over 10 gigabits per second — nearly 100 times faster than 4G LTE. Further, 5G promises to reduce end-to-end latency from around 80 milliseconds to just a single millisecond and deliver a 1,000-fold increase in bandwidth per unit area.
That said, a network is only as powerful as its weakest component, which means realizing the full potential of 5G will require overhauling entire networking infrastructures — a challenge the 5G vanguard has yet to tackle.
To address this blindspot, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently established the ITU-T Focus Group Technologies for Network 2030 (FG NET-2030), instructing it “to study, review, and survey existing technologies, platforms, and standards for identifying the gaps and challenges towards...networks for the year 2030 and beyond.”
Putting Last-Mile Connectivity First
According to FG NET-2030 Chairman Richard Li, the incongruity between the fixed and mobile sides of current networking infrastructures represents the biggest roadblock to an operationally unified 5G system.
The mobile side is comprised of the antennae and radio waves with (and over) which data is transmitted to mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and various IoT endpoints. In recent years, the lion’s share of researchers’ attention has been dedicated to finding ways to improve data speeds, minimize latency, and bolster reliability across last-mile connections between these devices and their nearest network routers — a cell tower, for instance.
From beamforming to massive MIMO to millimeter waves, the networking community has developed a suite of cutting-edge technologies that are redefining how mobile devices connect to and communicate with the network's edge. In 2016, researchers at the University of Bristol were able to demonstrate that the use of massive MIMO alone can deliver a 22-fold increase in spectrum efficiency (compared to contemporaneous 4G networks).
Recognizing the Problems that Still Need to Be Fixed
These are undeniably important developments — the Bristol researchers estimated that existing networks need to increase their capacity by a factor of 1,000 in order to fully support 5G — but Li fears that their effectiveness will inevitably be undercut by the fact that few parallel developments have been made on the fixed side of the networking equation.
Comprised of both the antennae that transmit data wirelessly between fixed points and all of the cables, fibers, and switches that enable long-distance telecommunications, the fixed side is the less glamorous — but just as essential — side of modern networking infrastructures. Unfortunately, the vast majority of fixed networking components still rely on standard 4G-era technology.
While these components are more than capable of handling the volume of data involved in 4G communication, they will become a significant chokepoint once 5G is introduced. The aforementioned 5G technologies enable blazing-fast data transmission between mobile devices and the network’s edge, but as soon as data needs to proceed “deeper” into a network architecture — to a server, for instance — it slows to a (relative) crawl.
Future-Proofing Enterprise Connectivity
In short, the current state of 5G is tantamount to driving a Lamborghini through rush hour traffic. The potential for unparalleled speed is present, but the underlying infrastructure and abundance of other vehicles — that is, to extend the metaphor, other data packets — are getting in the way. Figuring out how to relieve this traffic jam is the next step toward widespread 5G adoption. The mobile side of networking has been primed for 5G; now it’s the fixed side’s turn.
And while much of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of researchers and telecom providers, enterprises themselves need to prepare their networks for the data deluge that will be triggered by universal 5G connectivity. One of the easiest ways to do so is to partner with a networking expert like Turn-key Technologies (TTI).
At TTI, we have nearly three decades of experience helping enterprises design, deploy, and manage sophisticated networks capable of supporting the latest, greatest technologies. Our skilled team of technicians can craft a unique networking solution tailored to any organization’s specific needs, guaranteeing that, when the time comes, the organization will be ready to take full advantage of all that 5G connectivity has to offer.