The new universal mobile telecommunications system 5G: Pushing the limits of technology
Gamers pace living rooms in virtual worlds, teams made up of players from across the world work together to build machines and assess the results using augmented reality – our new digital world would cease to function without the fast and continuous exchange of large quantities of data. But this world has its own technical limits. So what are researchers doing to push the boundaries?
Deutsche Bundespost, the German federal post office, introduced the first modem in 1966. Its transfer rate? Up to a maximum of 1,200 bits per second. Anyone using their smartphone or tablet in today’s world to surf the web using LTE can ideally expect to speeds of around 125 Megabits – one hundred thousand times faster than the first modem. And all that without tripping over any wires.
However, along with the opportunities transferring data has brought us, the requirements placed on it have also grown. Global data volumes are continuously growing. That is why researchers like the Fraunhofer Institute are already hard at work on the next standard system with even higher data transfer rates, even though the current LTE system, also known as 4G (4th generation), is not yet available throughout Germany. Although 5G is still just a vision for the future, T-Mobile US is planning to achieve nationwide coverage in the US by 2020. Japan also wants to implement 5G in time for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
Data transfer rates are not the be all and end all
The data transfer rate is just one aspect of 5G. Another is the response time, also known as latency. It’s a crucial factor to our degree of comfort in virtual environments. If the environment fails to react to a head movement quickly enough, this can lead to nausea. This is a familiar phenomenon for flight and driving simulators, and is even called simulator sickness. It’s induced when a user sees a movement on the screen and the simulator’s positioning motors aren’t capable of fully or directly reflecting this movement. Because of this, 5G data transfer rates should offer a latency time of under one millisecond. This is not possible with central data processing since transferring back and forth to a central server takes too much time. This means that it’s the data from processors in people’s direct environment that’s processed – smartphones, for example. In doing so, these end devices are forming an interface between the network and the physical world or even the edge of it, known as edge computing.
Another aspect to take into account is ensuring a continuous flow of mobile data. This is important for things like self-driving cars, for example, since a brief interruption to the flow of data during rush hour could have devastating effects that mirror a human driver falling asleep at the wheel. Other areas need these kinds of robust networks as well. This could include smart factories with automated production facilities where the machines communicate with one another, or remote-controlled operational robots. The solution? Parallel data transfer through numerous decentralized servers. All of these measures should result in markedly better energy efficiency as well.
With its extra short response times, 5G is setting the technical benchmark for the Internet of Things where devices and machines fitted with sensors communicate with each other. Ideas about how the Internet of Things will develop are quite divergent. Gartner estimates some 20 billion networked devices by 2020, IHS around 30 billion and other analysts even estimate numbers that are much higher. One thing is clear, however: We’ll be seeing marked increases. And the current universal mobile telecommunications system will not be enough to handle it.
The first steps towards the future
The technical challenges are enormous. Yet the researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute are confident that the first 5G products and solutions will soon be available. “We’ve already proved in the lab that the 10 Gigabits per second we’re aiming for at a latency of one millisecond with the utmost reliability are indeed possible. We’re now even able to put forward specific product-related solutions in certain application areas,” says Professor Slawomir Stanczak of the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications.
This will bring changes for companies as well. They’ll not only need to prepare to invest in the right infrastructure, but their customer service systems may also need to be redesigned around 5G. After all, the availability of 5G will massively push forward the development of the IoT as well as virtual and augmented reality technology. This will open up entirely new opportunities for customer service. For example, there could be new ways to sell products as well as new approaches to the support that goes along with those sales.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
Image: sasinparaksa – Fotolia/Adobe Stock