What is 5G? What is the difference between 5G and 4G? Explained

What is 5G?

What is 5G?

5G technology is quite simply put, a modern breakthrough in communication technology. Not only does 5G brings speed improvements over 4G, but it is also expected to unleash immense internet of things (IoT) potential throughout the world as it is supposed to serve as the communication channel required between billions of connected devices communicating with each other. This is made possible with its reduced latency, higher communication speed but at a higher cost.

How does 5G work?

5G technology has come a long way in the past couple of years. There have been several key improvements to the very fundamentals of data transmission that have been employed in order to drive up the transfer speed, bandwidth and decrease latency, all at the same time while many other technologies have seen development which aims to serve to drive the 5G experience even further.

The technologies behind making 5G possible can be written as follows:

  • Millimeter-wave: The millimetre range of the EM spectrum is nothing but the range of frequencies whose corresponding wavelengths are in the range of 10mm-1mm. Such frequencies hence range from 30GHz to 300GHz as compared to 4G which does not typically exceed 6GHz. The higher the frequency of the transmitted wave, the more data it can carry which increases the rate at which data is transferred from the sender to the receiver in a given amount of time. It does come with a huge trade-off, i.e. it is easily obstructed by things like walls, foliage, etc.
  • Small Cells usage: 5G aims in delivering both enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) in order to facilitate features such as industrial automation, requiring high speed, low latency, ultra-reliable connections. Small cells are low-powered portable base stations that can be placed throughout cities. Carriers can install many small cells to form a dense, multifaceted infrastructure. Small cells being physically unobtrusive, can blend in well with different city infrastructure.
  • Massive MIMO: Massive MIMO stands for Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output. This essentially means that both the sending and the receiving end have multiple linked antennas which help in increasing the efficiency in the connection. Hundreds or even thousands of such transmitting and receiving parts are mounted in a base station which helps in better focusing the transmission and reception of signals in a smaller region of space, allowing for usage of lower powered components for a given distance the signal should travel. This does not come without its drawbacks. A suitably powerful computer is required to make sure the signal transmission/reception is done properly over such a large number of antennas.
  • Beamforming: This process helps in finding the most efficient delivery route of data from the base station to a user. The beam direction can be changed many times a second. This user-specific approach allows for steering of narrower transmission beams and increases the overall efficiency in the use of the available spectrum with a MIMO array.
  • Full Duplex: A full-duplex communication essentially means that data transfer from the base station to destination and from destination to base station happens over a single path or a single channel. This means that only one channel gets used up in both transmission and reception in a base station, rather than two, ensuring better utilization of the overall equipment available. A drawback would be that signal interference might take place in such a connection where incoming and outgoing signals take the same path.
  • SDN: Software-defined Networking is used to make a network flexible and agile by making the network control directly programmable while the other processes, application or network services are abstracted. The control plane for a 5G network with SDN will move away from the hardware and enable external control over data through a logical software called a controller. In this way, the introduction of services or any other modification to the network can be easily done in very little time.

Latest update on 5G

    • A few major telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T have already started 5G trials in 12 cities in America. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and has released reports on the standards to be maintained for 5G networking in the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT)-2020 network.
    • The 3GPP is a mobile industry standards body that has its own standards and specifications process for 5G New Radio specifications where mobile vendors, as well as operators, participate. According to the ITU guidelines, 5G network speeds should have a peak downlink speed of 20Gbps and uplink speed of 10Gbps.
    • Latency in a network is the amount of time it takes for a data packet to reach its destination in said network. In a 5G network, latency can be as low as 1ms for Ultra-Reliable Low Latency scenarios and up to 4-5 ms for the mobile scenario. With a connection as quick and responsive as 5G, not only people but also machines can be connected to each other over the same network, sharing data and resource as they carry out their operations. This will allow machines and humans alike to be able to coordinate with each other like never before. Think of a doctor in London with a 5G connected device operating on a patient in LA without physically being present in the OT in LA.

New generation networks are also designed to have always-on functionality and hence, are being designed to be extremely energy efficient in their operation by minimizing how much power such a modem utilizes based on the amount of data going through it.

Difference between 4G and 5G

  • Currently, 5G is being designed to be faster, more energy-efficient and smarter than 4G with a tremendous increase in responsiveness. 5G speeds can reach 100 gigabits per second, which if, attainable, shall make 5G up to 100 times faster than 4G.
  • Low latency in a 5G connection is also going to be one of the biggest differentiating factors between the two technologies. Currently, the time it takes for a data packet to reach a receiver after it has been sent from a device in a 4G connection can be upto 200ms. 5G aims to reduce said time to around 1-4 ms. This would mean that 5G can easily replace wired connections or WIFI and a person should be able to stream a 4K video on such a connection without any sort of lags or buffering whatsoever.
  • Bandwidth in 4G connections is a big issue today as such bandwidth is very crowded nowadays with so many devices operating in the same. 5G will be able to handle current and future devices as well as emerging technologies such as self-driving cars, automated home products, etc.
  • Another important point to note here is that 5G will essentially integrate LTE. LTE Advanced Pro is like a foundation to the 5G network. While 5G will mostly be working in mmWave radio spectrum, there will also be spectrum sharing with LTE wavelengths and the use of mmWave bands will be aided by existing LTE infrastructure such as macro and small cell sites.


Video traffic, which is one of the leading causes of data consumption worldwide is expected to grow from 56 exabytes in 2017 to 240 exabytes by 2022, globally. Higher data speeds are hence, in great demand as video streaming services become more and more popular and the videos themselves become more and more detailed in their resolution and for other services such as video conferencing, virtual reality, etc. The currently existing network will hence require a lot of small cell coverage and will take advantage of the higher bandwidth spectrum.

5G technology is also set to revolutionize the way machine-human and machine-machine interaction is carried out. In an emerging market, with emerging technologies such as IoT, the network will be required to be designed in such a way that it is responsive and fast while being extremely power efficient as such devices may require longer battery life, due to which narrowband technologies such as enhanced machine-type communication (eMTC) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) will be used to scale down complexities in device and network to support the aforementioned goals.


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