5G and Beyond: Exploring the vibrant future of connectivity

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Written by Kevin Hegerty, 5G Application Accelerator Lead, West Midlands 5G (WM5G)

Digital connectivity is evolving at a rapid pace and is opening an exciting world of new innovations formerly the preserve of sci-fi films.  

New products, services and applications that exploit the capabilities of 5G are being created by innovators to enrich our personal lives, our workplaces, environment, and the society we live in.

 

Drivers for advanced digital connectivity

Mobile communication technology has evolved beyond all recognition over the last four decades, from the first analogue voice-based mobile phones in the mid-80s (e.g., the Motorola ‘Brick’), through to today’s incredibly powerful 5G devices.  

The amount of data we are consuming continues to increase at an exponential rate.  

According to a recent study by Ericsson, the average data consumption per smartphone is forecast to reach 41GB per month by 2027 as users run progressively data hungry applications.  

We are also seeing more machines connected wirelessly and exchanging large volumes of data with other machines, humans, and the internet.  It is this demand that will continue to drive the evolution of mobile technology well into the future.  

5G comprises of three service categories, enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low Latency (uRLLC) and Machine Type Communications (mMTC).  It is designed to offer better inbuilding and outdoor coverage, higher data rates and lower latency. It also brings greater network capacity and efficiency with improved service availability, reliability, and security. These capabilities are set to evolve as the Third Generation Partnership Programme (3GPP) develops new standard specifications beyond 5G. 

To date, 5G use-cases have generally focused on the eMBB category, with the aim of delivering superior speeds compared with previous generations. Through our 5PRING accelerator and WM5G testbed and trial programmes, we have seen that innovators are also interested in the low latency and high reliability benefits offered by 5G.

5G, in partnership with other technologies such as Cloud Computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), will create many new innovation opportunities in different market sectors including transport, manufacturing, healthcare and creative industries. 5G has been demonstrated to enable driverless cars, smart automation, remote surgery, immersive Extended Reality (XR) experiences and many more use-cases. 

5G supports the transfer of huge amounts of data, which AI and ML platforms can process and act on in near real-time. This relationship has the potential to completely revolutionise businesses.

 

It’s still early days for 5G

It’s important to recognise that whilst progress has been made, it is still early days for 5G. Today’s commercial networks conform to the first iteration of the 5G standards and are overlaid/reliant on top of existing 4G infrastructure to ease migration from 4G to 5G.  This is referred to as the Non-Standalone (NSA) network configuration.  

Whilst users are experiencing throughput and latency improvements compared with previous mobile technologies, it will not be until mobile operators migrate their networks to the Standalone (SA) configuration (without 4G) and incorporate advanced 5G features including new Radio Frequency (RF) Spectrum bands, will users experience the headline performance levels promised for 5G. 

Having conducted trials of 5G Standalone networks in 2021, operators are expected to migrate their commercial networks to SA and introduce new features over the coming year. 

Private 5G networks are also beginning to be deployed in the UK. The move will provide the foundation for a raft of new digital connectivity features and innovative use cases in manufacturing and many other sectors.

 

Keeping up the momentum

Despite the impact on 5G roll-out of the Pandemic and the UK Government’s decision that Chinese infrastructure vendors shall be removed from commercial networks (by 2027), commercial 5G services continue to be deployed by operators, from urban centres expanding outwards.

For the UK to remain competitive in a challenging global market, it is imperative that the deployment of 5G networks continues at pace, support be provided to start-up and scale-up businesses to facilitate digital innovation and expand adoption.  It is also vital that the 5G ecosystem, including applications, services, infrastructure, devices, and Spectrum availability (particularly mmWave) expand to meet demand and facilitate the growth of new and exciting use-cases.    

 

Future technology

The Sixth Generation (6G) wireless technology is already being worked by industry players. Typically, a new generation of Mobile Technology appears every 10 years and industry commentators forecast commercial launch by 2030. 

Whilst it’s not clear what 6G will look like in detail, our expectation is that the technology will utilise even higher frequencies to boost data rates, capacity and reduce latency even further. 

The networks of the future will be able to support a limitless number of connections, unlocking the true potential of person to person, person to machine and machine-to-machine communications, seamlessly connecting everyone to everything wherever they happen to be.

 

Making the business case

At WM5G, we have the unique opportunity to showcase the benefits of adopting innovative connectivity technologies. Just as networks are evolving, our work must also evolve. As a result, we will be developing our commercial services to attract and support businesses through the next wave of connectivity innovation.

We are here to help business owners and technology leaders to solve live business problems, delight customers, and drive business growth through tech and connectivity solutions. To find out more about our work and how we can help to support your business, visit our website at https://www.wm5g.org.uk and sign up to our Newsletter for expert opinion, case studies and latest news.


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