5G continues to roll out worldwide ‒ and Qualcomm reports that it is running about 2 years ahead of where 4G was in the same time frame. That’s good news for another reason, as airlines are issuing warnings that the imminent 5G rollout by Verizon and AT&T could ground some widebody planes, an issue that has already delayed the rollout.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have helped advance the 5G roll out. Why? In part because technicians updating towers were largely not impacted by the pandemic, since they operated alone or in small teams, protecting them from mass exposure.
The increased use of video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams and Webex, coupled with growing concerns over the security of Wi-Fi, have driven greater interest in 5G solutions both for outside and inside company deployments. In addition, IT has discovered that it is far easier to support and secure a 5G connected PC than a more traditional Wi-Fi PC because the 5G PC is always connected.
Currently we are on release 17 of 5G. The scope of release 18 was agreed to on in December, and it promises a number of improvements over the current generation, outlined by Qualcomm in its recent “Setting off the 5G Advanced evolution” report.
Let’s talk about some of the bigger improvements that should become available over the next year and a half (releases tend to roll out on an 18-month cadence and 20 releases in all are anticipated prior to the release of 6G, which is under development).
Extraterrestrial Cell Sites
Cellular coverage outside of cities and rural areas remains relatively unreliable due to the cost and revenue potential of remote cell sites. Where I live, we regularly have search parties for lost hikers who have wandered into the mountains only to find that the weather can change a lot in a day, resulting in their need to be rescued. Often these lost hikers have cell phones but no service, making them little better than paperweights when they are most needed as a lifeline.
Elon Musk and others have been talking about deploying satellites to massively increase global cell coverage. This capability is designed into the release 18 specification, effectively eventually enabling (you still must launch the satellites) this highly desired service.
Also read: Seven 5G Applications of the Future
Improved Device-to-device Connectivity
Whether we are talking about enhanced peripheral devices, the ability to securely talk to another phone user in proximity, or the increased need for V2X vehicle-to-vehicle communication for even safer autonomous driving, release 18 is slated to significantly improve device-to-device connectivity.
This is particularly critical for autonomous robots, cars, planes and even ships that may be out of cellphone range but still need updates on potential safety threats in their paths. In addition, we are increasingly using digital health monitors and digital assistants that benefit from enhanced connectivity and need to communicate securely in real-time regardless of the state of the local network.
This peer-to-peer communications capability should significantly advance autonomous development, making the resulting products capable of performing more reliably and securely, accelerating their value and eventual deployments.
Lower Energy Use
Release 18 will explore lower standby energy states and methods to reduce the energy needed to transfer data. This enhancement should extend not only the battery life of personal electronics but also significantly reduce the energy requirements for IoT devices’ line sensors and cameras. It could also allow these devices to operate more reliably over a period of days, weeks and even months while disconnected from power. One particularly interesting area that will be explored is low power standby that would keep the device in a semi-awake mode until it needs to wake up to do something important.
This should further the capabilities of satellite transceivers, allowing for cheaper and smaller satellites that should also reduce, significantly, the cost to build the things.
The Decade Ahead
While 6G development is expected to start in earnest around 2025, we have a couple more anticipated releases for 5G prior to that. Currently we are deploying release 17, which provides several performance increases. But it is release 18 that may be even more disruptive, as it enables satellite transmission to connect areas that currently are outside of service, enables peer-to-peer communications with a significant benefit to autonomous robots and vehicles, and promises a far more economical energy use that should not only extend phone battery life but also enable whole new classes of IoT devices.
Over the next 3+ years, release 18 will be followed by 19 and 20 and set the foundation for rolling out 6G as we approach 2030. And Qualcomm remains at the forefront of this wireless revolution, committed to driving the market to ever greater efficiency and connectivity.
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