Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram

is a technically-qualified freelance writer,
editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai


Even as buyers wonder whether to buy a 3G phone or a 4G one, even as developers discuss which platform to develop their apps for, even as wearable makers and media houses harness the boons of 4G, elsewhere in the world, researchers are moving ahead.

Major telcos and device makers are betting on the arrival of 5G by 2018, or at the most by 2020. This would mean more than just buying another instrument and changing your data plan. Trend watchers and industry experts believe that this will change everything in the telecom value chain. The network infrastructure would change; bandwidth would be unimaginably high. Millions of users would be able to send across large data packets, say, a movie would transfer before you can say zap! This would mean many changes in mobile devices—not just in terms of wireless technology, but everything from battery and storage to camera and display, because with better connectivity people would want to do much more with their phones. As people do more with their phones, more data would get generated; so data centres would be impacted too. Homes and cities would get smarter. More signals would fly across the air, and perhaps more birds would die—unless technologists come up with a solution for that too.

5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey (Courtesy: University of Surrey)
5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey (Courtesy: University of Surrey)

Here, in this feature, we take a look at some ways in which global telecommunications is bound to change in the next couple of years. Would you be able to recognise the phone in your pocket? Would you buy CDs anymore? Would you pay a smaller or larger mobile bill? Read on to find out.

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A network that understands the user’s needs
The 5G network will provide speeds that you cannot even imagine today. Prof. Rahim Tafazolli, director of 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at University of Surrey, said in a recent BBC News story that it would be possible to run wireless data connections at 800Gbps with 5G, which would, according to him, be a dramatic overhaul and harmonisation of the radio spectrum.

5G will be like the Internet. 5GIC likens the 5G network to the Internet in its ability to adapt, evolve and grow. It will not be a frigid network that chokes and splutters under pressure from smarthomes, cars and cities! Despite a constant increase in the number of connected devices, it will attempt to enable real-time responses for all.

Logically unlimited data rates. While such limitless bandwidth is not physically possible, it can be done logically; that is the innovation in 5G. The upcoming telecom era would give each user the satisfaction of getting seemingly unlimited data rates, while resources would be juggled and shared in the background. This would be achieved by predicting user demand, encouraging apps to perform bandwidth-intensive tasks during non-peak time, optimising network response times based on latency and making better use of available wireless networks.

Virtualisation at work. We are likely to see network virtualisation and cloud-like concepts implemented on the radio network. 5G is likely to use cognitive radio technology to enable different radio technologies to share the same spectrum. Base stations would be classified into radio units and baseband units, so that baseband units can be pooled to handle a high number of radio units. Optimisation of radio resource management (RRM) techniques is one of the key research areas of 5G.

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Likewise, there will be a clear split between control and user planes, to facilitate heterogeneous network deployments. All user devices can be controlled on a macro layer, while user data is independently provided through a femto cell.

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