Where Connectivity is Going Next
The major milestones in cellular and Wi-Fi technology are 5G and Wi-Fi 6, respectively. Most of us assume that the technologies are mainly meant to increase the speeds at which we interact with the internet. While that is part of the answer, but there are other factors which make these enhancements more desirable that the extant versions. Let us talk about each of these separately
Cellular technology is rapidly moving to 5G or 5TH generation mobile networks. The goal is to address multiple issues that affect the daily user experience for billions of people around the world. Network capacity, latency, bandwidth, reliability, availability, are some of the factors that drive the need for a network system that improves upon 4G LTE. The question that any curious mind might ask - what about 5G makes it address these issues? Below is the answer.
To start with, 5G will work with a different and wider range of frequencies for communication. 5G will incorporate all the frequencies from 450 MHz to 6 GHz, which includes the previous 4G frequency spectrum(700 MHz to 2.7 GHz). In addition to this, 5G will also use the frequency spectrum ranging from 24.25 GHz to 52.6 GHz, also referred to as the millimeter wave spectrum. With a wider spectrum to use, more devices can communicate simultaneously, improving the network capacity. An improved network capacity will inevitably result in higher reliability, as the number of dropped connections will be reduced. The peak data rates that can be achieved with a fully mature 5G network can go as higher as 20 Gb/s. That number stands at 300Mb/s with the current cellular technology.
While the numbers above are promising, we do need to understand how the roll out will happen and what the realistic timelines are. The 5G roll out will be sequential and it will not behave the same in all areas. The band of frequencies available will vary depending on how fast the carriers can bring up the infrastructure. We might be seeing many carries already claiming to have 5G coverage, but the definition of 5G is a little vague. Most carriers that claim to be offering 5G are doing that using the same bands as currently available in the 4G networks. A network operator can utilize any of the multiplexing techniques(Time or Frequency) to share the same band to offer the so called 5G, but that does not accompany the main features that make 5G great. It will be a few years before all the steps like spectrum distribution, hardware upgrades and new towers for high band 5G are a norm. It will only be then that we can fully realize the true value of 5G connectivity. However, the great news is that since the major phone makers have already released devices with 5G radios, the push to build the infrastructure to harness the value has only gotten stronger.
Wi-Fi 6 will perform the same basic role of connecting devices to internet, but the enhancement is mainly driven by the need of connecting more devices. The number of devices connecting to a regular home router has changed from a couple to close to 10 or even higher. This change is invariably accompanied by reduced performance and throughput available to the devices. The main technologies that will drive Wi-Fi 6 will be MU-MIMO, which stands for ‘Multi User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output’, and OFDMA, which stands for ‘Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access’. MU-MIMO will allow 8 devices to communicate with the router simultaneously, which is twice the number that is possible with the current technology. The OFDMA will enhance the ability of the router to distribute simultaneous data to a higher number of devices than before. The overall impact of these technologies working in tandem will be better throughput, lesser dropped connections, and higher reliability with data transfer.
We are surely entering a new era of connectivity solutions on both the cellular and Wi-Fi front. The connectivity costs with these enhancements will only go down. This will allow to create and deploy more solutions which otherwise would not be possible with some of the current limitations in internet connectivity.