5G Is Coming, But 4G Isn't Going Away Any Time Soon
October 13, 2016
Last week I attended the 5G Americas Summit in Dallas, Texas with dozens of other analysts. There were numerous sessions about the evolution of 5G and how it will evolve into a ubiquitous wireless technology. However, one of the narratives that seemed to keep popping up in my conversations and discussions was that while 5G is an extremely promising technology and the future of wireless, 4G is still going to be around for quite some time. Just look at most networks today, 3G coverage is still heavily relied upon by most carriers to provide for a coverage layer in places where 4G LTE is spotty or Voice over LTE isn’t available.
5G is going to start out as a millimeter wave technology, which means that it will be very high frequency (28GHz and above) and behave very differently from existing cellular technologies. Because higher frequency radio waves don’t travel as far or penetrate as well, there will be areas where millimeter wave radio tech simply doesn’t reach. While 5G will start out as a millimeter wave technology, it will not be limited to only these types of radio transmission; much of the industry agrees that we will eventually see 5G in sub-6GHz spectrum as well, which behaves much more like today’s cellular technology. Those applications will probably come after the 2020 expected roll out of full 5G networks and are likely to exist to support things like IoT.
Because 5G is so different from 4G in the way that the radio waves behave, the standards body has been working hard to establish a 5G NR or New Radio. This new radio capability will create a new frame structure and numerology to the cellular communications protocols used to transmit data. This will bring new capabilities and improved latency over 4G and the existing radio. 5G is going to be more than just consumer technologies which is yet another reason why it will be important to have a 4G fallback to support any holes in 5G coverage.