Tech Trends: The Promise of 5G

July 15, 2019
Why integrators should be positioning themselves now to offer more cloud-based services in the future

I am guessing there is a fair amount of mass confusion around the topic of 5G. Some might it means 5 Gbps throughput. Others might say its 5 GHz transmission. Then, for those who believe the marketing hype, the services are here and now, prompting them to consider their next smartphone upgrade.

So, let’s set the baseline – 5G represents the next major iteration of cellular wireless transmission, promising a huge leap in transmission speeds and opening up many new device and service capabilities. Fully realized 5G, however, involves several technologies and parts of the transmission spectrum, and full implementation is a ways off. Further, there is variation among the spectra used in different countries, some of whom, notably China, are ahead in their deployments.

In any event, expect the significant ramp up to occur in the 2020-2025 time period, when there will be nearly 200 million 5G connected mobile devices in the United States.

Tech Details: Examining 5G

Low-frequency 5G network technology uses existing cellular and Wi-Fi bands to improve on LTE, achieving speed increases of 25 to 50 percent. Since much of the needed infrastructure is in place, deployments may be faster and see similar nationwide coverage and coverage reliability to current LTE networks.

T-Mobile plans to achieve 5G nationwide coverage by 2020, utilizing 600 MHz spectrum holdings it acquired in April 2017. Sprint holds more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum available in the top 100 US markets and is planning its use to provide 5G commercial services this year.

Spectrum variations are dictated by the availability of low band (<6 GHz) transmission bands and the distance and propagation limitations of higher frequency millimeter wave transmission. Propagation through objects decreases with increasing transmission frequency and thereby produces a trade-off in millimeter wave transmission between ultra-high data throughput speeds and the ability to penetrate walls and other objects.

Higher speed mm wave networks are optimal for short range, low latency, and very high capacity transmissions for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), but with a more limited range and with limited indoor penetration. They are best suited to dense urban and other environments, where their beneficial features are required to properly service the demand; however, because of their limitations, many more base stations are needed, leading to the rise of the concept of “small cell” – a package of small footprint radio equipment and antennas that can be flexibly placed on structures such as poles, traffic lights, streetlights or building exteriors.

Auction of the 28 GHz band started in November 2018 and was underway in January 2019. The 24 GHz band’s auction is expected to start after conclusion of the 28 GHz band auction. Furthermore, the FCC Chairman has announced an intention to auction the 37/39/47 GHz bands in fourth quarter of 2019.

AT&T has initial deployments at 39 GHZ, followed by 28 GHz; Verizon 28 GHz; and T-Mobile 28 GHz. The FCC has also proposed a number of bands including 26 GHz, 32 GHz, 42 GHz, and 50 GHz for flexible use service, and 70 GHz and 80 GHz for fixed services.

Expect low power millimeter-wave components to find their way into a variety of IoT solutions, given that so many of these will be clustered and thus amenable to short-range and mesh approaches.

Mid-band spectrum offers consistent capacity and speed, complementary to mmW in urban and suburban settings and extending the availability of 5G into less densely populated areas. Mid-band deployments typically use a smaller number of macro base stations - in contrast to the larger numbers to be deployed in small cells.

Speaking at the 5G New Horizons Wireless Symposium, T-Mobile’s Karri Kuoppamaki laid out the need for a multi-band approach to 5G spectrum: “None of these bands in itself is the answer to 5G. You (need) to have spectrum across all these different bands to be able to address 5G in its full glory…to enable, or to meet the vision of 5G and all these different use cases – some requiring high speeds, some requiring low speeds; some requiring low latency, some not caring about latency; some being localized in nature, not really moving around, some moving around having a requirement for coverage nationwide.”

The Impact on Security

How might we expect this to affect security applications? Starting with the expectation of low latency and unrestricted bandwidth, I anticipate a number of likely outcomes.

First, IP cameras streaming directly into the cloud to enable remote viewing and storage of high-quality, full-motion video is the obvious benefit. This will be given a nice nudge by H.265 compression providing better resolution-bandwidth performance.

Look for a huge growth in cloud computing applications, since they will have plenty of data to chew on, to include AI, remote processing, big data analysis, etc. I would expect that a new class of low-cost edge devices will appear, as many will have less need for heavy on-board processing, leaving that to servers in the cloud – this includes various IoT devices endowed with 5G connectivity, such as drones and robots.

Asset and people tracking will become more accurate and deployment widespread. Also, this might be the catalyst to really force IPv6 into the mainstream with every device having a globally unique IP address.

Opportunities for integrators will include expanded product and service offerings, particularly cloud services. Now is the time to get well-positioned and ready for these business opportunities by seeking out cloud product and service providers that align with your business vision.

Small cell construction and maintenance – indoors and potentially outdoors – may also represent a business expansion opportunity but require additional wireless networking skills. Deloitte estimates the small cell equipment market to approach $10 B in 2019.

Ray Coulombe is Founder and Managing Director of SecuritySpecifiers and the CONSULT Technical Security Symposium. Reach him at [email protected], through LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter, @RayCoulombe.