Advent of new superfast 5G communications a step closer
Three Ireland secure new radio spectrum – the 100 MHz frequency – nationally
David Hennessy, Three chief technology officer: “By securing uniform frequency nationally we can ensure that those living outside the main city areas can enjoy the same service as urban dwellers.”
The new superfast 5G telecommunications service took a significant step closer to reality last month with the auction of new radio spectrum to the main Irish providers. The outcome of the auction saw Three Ireland secure the 100 MHz frequency nationally.
“We were very pleased with the auction”, says Three chief technology officer David Hennessy.
“By securing uniform frequency nationally we can ensure that those living outside the main city areas can enjoy the same service as urban dwellers. Also, 100MHz is the recognised optimum bandwidth for 5G.”
The importance of having universal coverage across the country for the new service cannot be overstated as 5G is much more than simply an improved version of the current 4G service. It will provide the connectivity to make possible technologies like smart cities, driverless cars, and the ubiquitous internet of things (IoT).
“5G is next generation mobile”, says Hennessy. “It is designed to keep pace with the huge increase in demand for bandwidth and connectivity. 5G is designed to offer faster speeds and massively improved mobile broadband. We will be talking about gigabits per second instead of megabits.
“But it’s not just speed. 5G also offers ultra-low latency. Latency is the time taken between a request being made to the network and something happening as a result. With 5G this will be brought down to single digit milliseconds from 30, 40 or 100 now depending on whether you are on 4G or 3G.”
This ultra-low latency is critically important for applications like driverless cars and automated drone controls. You can’t, after all, have cars travelling at 100 kph waiting to hear back from a network what to do about an obstacle just metres away. Communication times need to be near instantaneous.
Another benefit is connection density. The new network will be capable of supporting up to one million connections per square kilometre instead of tens of thousands on the very best networks at the moment. This means that you can have mobile phone users sharing the same network with hundreds of thousands of IoT sensors on traffic lights, buildings, and cars with no constraints on service.
“You will have more connections but they might not all be at very high speeds”, Hennessy explains. “They could be kilobit speeds for traffic light data or location sensors and gigabit connections for smart phones or TV connections.”
This vastly increased capacity will also offer much greater reliability for mission critical applications in settings such as healthcare.
“It will be possible to slice the network to protect mission critical services at hospitals and so on”, says Hennessy. In other words, these users would not be expected to share network resources with others thus guaranteeing availability.
The next steps will involve putting the new networks in place as well as developing the devices to exploit its capabilities. Before any of that happens, however, there needs to be agreement on standards.
“The 5G New Radio protocols are being worked on at the moment and we hope to see the final specifications issued by the end of the year”, says Hennessy.
“These protocols will create a standard for the operation of 5G mobile networks. Previous generations of networks were primarily geared to connecting people with each other but 5G will have the potential to connect everything. That means the 5G New Radio protocols will be used not just in mobile phones but cars, utility meters, wearables, drones, medical devices and much more. All the vendors and operators have come together to approve network equipment and chipsets and so on. They will agree the standards and that will set out the roadmap for the technology.”
Once the standards have been issued work can begin on network deployment which will see new hardware being added to the existing network. “We are looking forward to the new standards.”
He is also looking forward to seeing the new applications which will be developed for the network.
“It’s an ecosystem”, he says. “That might be an overused word but it’s appropriate in this context. 5G has lots of attributes such as speed, reliability and density. But it’s the ability for people to develop apps that utilise these attributes that’s most exciting. Android is an operating system or ecosystem. No one could have imagined the number of different apps that would be developed for it when it was first introduced. That’s what’s going to happen with 5G.
“Lots of very clever people will develop IOT solutions to sit on it. These will support smart cities, smart campuses, smart health, driverless cars and much else. At its most basic you can have sensors that do lots of different things. If you have thousands of sensors along the Liffey and in buildings beside it the possibilities are endless.
“Streaming will be ultra-fast and this opens up tremendous possibilities around augmented reality. This is a huge opportunity – drivers could have the equivalent of Google Glass being displayed on their car windscreens.”
And how long will we have to wait for all of this?
Not too long according to Hennessy.
“We are hoping to see it rolled out in 2019 or 2020. But a lot will depend on how quickly the devices are developed.”