5G cellular evolution and smart cities

by Glenn Laxdal

The power of connectivity is transforming all industries and forward-thinking cities.

This digital transformation is driving the next generation of wireless access—5G—targeting commercial availability around 2020. Just as 4G/LTE technology enabled the explosion of smartphones, mobile applications, and mobile commerce, the evolution to 5G will enable rapidly growing, diverse services for both human and machine communications.

Since 5G builds on licensed 4G/LTE, benefits for low-power IoT devices will begin as early as 2017.

According to Ericsson, over the next five years: Traffic volumes on cellular networks will be multiplied 1,000 times, and 100 times more devices will require connectivity.

The evolution to 5G will spur innovation, making cities more livable, secure, efficient, and responsive to citizens’ needs.

To support the diversity needed, 5G will include network slicing, which will enable connectivity services that are highly scalable and programmable in terms of:

  • Speed levels
  • Capacity
  • Coverage
  • Security
  • Reliability
  • Availability
  • Latency
  • Efficiency

Traditional cellular networks and their one-size-fits-all approach will adapt with new 5G frequencies to support thousands of scenarios, many different device types, and varying application requirements.

Characteristics of 5G technology that deliver city benefits include:

  • Broadband everywhere – 5G offers better coverage and performance outdoors and in buildings (e.g., crowded urban areas, stadiums,  convention centers, public transportation, and subways).
  • Reliable speed – In seconds, consumers can download a full-length high-definition movie, police can upload or download high-definition video, and TV reporters can stream remote, real-time broadcasts. These speeds will rival fixed fiber, allowing wireless to reliably reach places too cost-prohibitive to deploy fiber today.
  • Adaptive – Future communication networks will be programmable to best support applications’ needs, whether they’re highly encrypted financial transactions or a low-priority signal from a connected trash bin when it is full.
  • Energy efficient – Battery life for low-power IoT devices will reach up to 10 years, reducing the maintenance and battery replacement costs.
  • Responsive or real time – By reducing the response time or latency in the network to 1 millisecond, equipment like cranes and excavators can be remotely operated and roadways may achieve three times the current capacity through platooning. Combining real-time communications with the speed and capacity for video, remote healthcare services for unserved or underserved citizens can become a reality.
  • Combining wireless networks – Short-range, unlicensed wireless networks (e.g., Wi-Fi, RF-Mesh, ZigBee, and Z-wave) often create application silos. Through integration gateways, licensed and unlicensed wireless networks can be managed as a single network with a common set of rules or policies. Handoff between these networks will be seamless, whether it is a smartphone or a city bus pulling into the terminal.
  • Quality of experience – 5G culminates into greater reliability, improving the overall experience for the person or the machine.

These 5G characteristics will spur growth in uses for wearables, augmented or virtual reality, remote collaboration, artificial intelligence, and much more. While commercial availability for evolved 5G is expected in 2020, test beds are starting in 2016.

AT&T and Ericsson are working together to help set the stage for widespread commercial and mobile adoption of 5G, and smart cities solutions will be a key beneficiary of this next-generation technology.