24 Mar 2021

The journey to 5G: A story spanning 5 decades

Gigamon EMEA Senior Director, Matt Percival, discusses the evolution of cellular networks from 1G to 5G. 

The era of 5G has arrived and its potential is vast. As network providers join ‘the race’ towards this new technology, it becomes less about a critical infrastructure competition and more a question of who will best enhance the range of new services that 5G can offer worldwide. However, it is important to take a step back and see how far this technology has progressed over the last half a century.  

Each recent decade can boast new developments in tech, particularly as 1G advanced to 5G across the same number of decades: 

  • 1G: The 1980s saw the emergence of the ‘brick phone’ and the rise of analogue technology. While tech finally became mobile, it was expensive and hugely limited in comparison to what we have now. 
  • 2G: The technological changes of the next decade, the 90s, included SMS and the rise of text messaging, a feature that is synonymous with mobile phones today. Therefore, this 10-year stretch saw the brick phone shrink in size but grow in popularity.  
  • 3G: In a move more recognisable to the technology of today, 3G took end-users online with mobile broadband and started the integration of data, video and voice. The early 2000s was also the dawn of mobile tech becoming of interest for a range of demographics and popularity picked up significantly.  
  • 4G: This advance has been indispensable in a year of remote working, telemedicine and the necessity of finding new ways to communicate and socialise. Between 2010 and 2020, 4G has increased speed and provided users with an entirely new generation of apps, as well as creating the gig economy. Expansive digitisation across many industries has taken workforces online and allowed freelancers to reach new levels of success.  
  • 5G: We now arrive at an opportunity to improve significantly. From trivial hyper-speed digital downloads, to life-changing emergency drone response and technically impressive autonomous driving cars, 5G is providing industries, organisations and individuals with a plethora of opportunities. Compared to 4G, this new generation of tech is 10 times faster, with 10 times less latency and 90 percent lower energy consumption. 

However, in order for 5G to be successful, there are a number of technologies that must harmonise, as well as social attitudes that need to shift. Network slicing, the millimetre wave spectrum and beam forming technology are all essential for 5G to function well. Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) is also key for efficiency, as it enables the addition of more antennas to a base station. Finally, to reduce latency, mobile edge computing and control and user plane separation (CUPS) have important roles to play.  

5G will also take a lot of planning from network providers and the organisations that are building new applications for 5G usage. The progression to this generation of technology is not a quick, nor a simple one. We must acknowledge that if we want to make the most of the opportunities that 5G provides, we must look to the future while both anticipating and embracing dramatic disruption. Smaller, safe and incremental changes will not be sufficient this time around.   

Guest blog by Matt Percival, EMEA Senior Director – Service Provider, Gigamon. You can follow Gigamon on Twitter and LinkedIn. This article was originally published RCR Wireless News

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