What is 5G?

5G is the latest generation of mobile communication. Around once every 10 years a new generation of mobile communication is developed. Starting from 1G analogue mobile telephony in the 1980s, since 2010 we now have 4G mobile data communication. Development of its successor - 5G - is currently ongoing; implementation of 5G is expected from 2020.

Why do we need 5G?

In all these years of mobile communication we have seen increasing volumes of mobile data transmitted, and there is no end to the growth of mobile traffic. 5G technology is necessary to deliver the required capacity in the mobile network. New frequency bands, but also more efficient radio technologies will have to ensure that 5G enables us to progress for the next decade.

New mobile Internet applications such as virtual reality are made possible by the much higher data rates of 5G. In, for example, office buildings or town centres data rates of up to 1 Gbit/s can be offered with much smaller base stations*. A data rate of 50 Mbit/s is the target for rural areas.

Which frequencies have been designated for 5G?

In Europe three frequency bands have been earmarked for 5G application: the 700 MHz frequency band, the 3.5 GHz frequency band and the 26 GHz frequency band. In addition, the 700 MHz frequency band is particularly suitable for Internet of Things applications. Due to the relatively low frequencies an excellent coverage can be created. However, this is at the expense of the data rate that can be offered. The 26 GHz frequency band can support very high data rates, but is less suitable for a widespread network, because this would require that many base stations would need to be installed. The 3.5 GHz frequency band is therefore essential to achieve 5G data rates with a reliable covering in urban areas.

The high frequency bands that are used in 5G, also imply the use of new radio technologies. The concept behind the current cellular networks is that each base station covers a specific area – a cell. 5G will however also make use of beamforming. In this way with an antenna array a specific radio bundle can be produced for individual users. The same radio frequencies can then be re-used in various bundles. So, for example, a bundle can be focused on a drone that is flying above a field. Further up, on the same frequency, a bundle can be focused on another drone.

Which applications are made possible by 5G?

5G must make other applications possible than just mobile Internet. Business users such as the police, energy companies, industry, transport and logistics must make use of 5G for their business processes. Such, often mission critical, business processes demand the extremely high availability of mobile communication. 5G must also make it possible to connect very large numbers of mobile devices; in the future there will be many more sensors and actuators** than there are now mobile smartphones.

New in 5G is the focus on the latency in the data transport. The extremely fast transport of data is necessary for the remote control of industrial processes or for steering self-driving cars. With 5G the latency must be reduced to a few milliseconds. Because data communication can never be faster than the speed of light, control processes and data must be brought closer to the end users.

From a moisture sensor that transmits measurements for a full year on a single battery, to a mobile television with Ultra HD reception in 3D; from remote surgery to watching a YouTube movie; it must all be possible with 5G. It will no longer be necessary to roll-out a separate network for every application; 5G networks will be able to flexibly satisfy all kinds of different requirements.


With thanks to Toon Norp (TNO).

*Base stations were previously also called transmission masts. For 2G these were large steel masts with aerials on top, now with 3G they are already smaller aerials on buildings. It is expected for 5G that they will be even smaller and, for instance, hang on a lamppost. The term base station is therefore better.
**Actuators can exercise influence on their surroundings. A sensor detects its surroundings and transmits a signal about it, an actuator uses this signal to influence its surroundings. Examples of actuators are a servomotor, an electronic valve and a relay.