Everything you need to know about 5G.
Here is where you find 5G technology explained—how 5G works, why 5G is important and how it’s changing the way the world connects and communicates.
At Qualcomm, we invented the foundational breakthroughs that make 5G possible.
Q: What is 5G?
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, 5G networks are cellular networks, in which the service area is divided into small geographical areas called cells.
All 5G wireless devices in a cell are connected to the Internet and telephone network by radio waves through a local antenna in the cell.
The main advantage of the new networks is that they will have greater bandwidth, giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbit/s).
A 5G network will be composed of networks of up to three different types of cells, each requiring specific antenna designs, each providing a different tradeoff of download speed vs. distance and service area.
5G cell phones and wireless devices connect to the network through the highest speed antenna within range at their location:
5G is the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It defines any system using 5G NR (5G New Radio) software as "5G", a definition that came into general use by late 2018.
Minimum standards are set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Previously, some reserved the term 5G for systems that deliver download speeds of 20 Gbit/s as specified in the ITU's IMT-2020 document.
5G networks are digital cellular networks, in which the service area covered by providers is divided into small geographical areas called cells. 5G can support up to a million devices per square kilometer, while 4G supports only up to 100,000 devices per square kilometer.
The new 5G wireless devices also have 4G LTE capabilities, as the new networks use 4G for initially establishing the connection with the cell, as well as in locations where 5G access is not available.
The ITU-R has defined three main application areas for the enhanced capabilities of 5G. They are Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). Only eMBB is deployed in 2020; URLLC and mMTC are several years away in most locations.
Autonomous cars do not require 5G, as they have to be able to operate where they do not have a network connection. While remote surgeries have been performed over 5G, most remote surgery will be performed in facilities with a fiber connection, usually faster and more reliable than any wireless connection.
5G speeds will range from ~50 Mbit/s to over a gigabit/s. The fastest 5G is known as mmWave. As of July 3, 2019, mmWave had a top speed of 1.8 Gbit/s on AT&T's 5G network.
Sub-6 GHz 5G (mid-band 5G), by far the most common, will usually deliver between 100 and 400 Mbit/s, but will have a much farther reach than mmWave, especially outdoors.
5G speeds in the less common millimeter wave spectrum, with its much more abundant bandwidth and shorter range, and hence greater frequency reusability, can be substantially higher.
In 5G, the "air latency" in equipment shipping in 2019 is 8–12 milliseconds. The latency to the server must be added to the "air latency" for most comparisons.
Verizon reports the latency on its 5G early deployment is 30 ms: Edge Servers close to the towers can reduce latency to 10–20 ms; 1–4 ms will be extremely rare for years outside the lab.
Initially, the term was associated with the International Telecommunication Union's IMT-2020 standard, which required a theoretical peak download speed of 20 gigabits per second and 10 gigabits per second upload speed, along with other requirements.
Then, the industry standards group 3GPP chose the 5G NR (New Radio) standard together with LTE as their proposal for submission to the IMT-2020 standard.
The first phase of 3GPP 5G specifications in Release-15 is scheduled to complete in 2019. The second phase in Release-16 is due to be completed in 2020.
5G NR (New Radio) is a new air interface developed for the 5G network. It is supposed to be the global standard for the air interface of 3GPP 5G networks.
Internet of things
In the Internet of things (IoT), 3GPP is going to submit the evolution of NB-IoT and eMTC (LTE-M) as 5G technologies for the LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) use case.
5G 3.5 GHz Cell Site of Vodafone in Karlsruhe, Germany
Beyond mobile operator networks, 5G is also expected to be used for private networks with applications in industrial IoT, enterprise networking, and critical communications.
Initial 5G NR launches depended on pairing with existing LTE (4G) infrastructure in non-standalone (NSA) mode (5G NR radio with 4G core), before maturation of the standalone (SA) mode with the 5G core network.
As of April 2019, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association had identified 224 operators in 88 countries that have demonstrated, are testing or trialing, or have been licensed to conduct field trials of 5G technologies, are deploying 5G networks or have announced service launches.
The equivalent numbers in November 2018 were 192 operators in 81 countries. The first country to adopt 5G on a large scale was South Korea, in April 2019. Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson predicted that 5G internet will cover up to 65% of the world's population by the end of 2025.
Also, it plans to invest 1 billion reals ($238.30 million) in Brazil to add a new assembly line dedicated to fifth-generation technology (5G) for its Latin American operations.
Large quantities of new radio spectrum (5G NR frequency bands) have been allocated to 5G. For example, in July 2016, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) freed up vast amounts of bandwidth in underused high-band spectrum for 5G.
The Spectrum Frontiers Proposal (SFP) doubled the amount of millimeter-wave unlicensed spectrum to 14 GHz and created four times the amount of flexible, mobile-use spectrum the FCC had licensed to date. In March 2018, European Union lawmakers agreed to open up the 3.6 and 26 GHz bands by 2020.
As of March 2019, there are reportedly 52 countries, territories, special administrative regions, disputed territories and dependencies that are formally considering introducing certain spectrum bands for terrestrial 5G services, are holding consultations regarding suitable spectrum allocations for 5G, have reserved spectrum for 5G, have announced plans to auction frequencies or have already allocated spectrum for 5G use.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, the first smartphone able to connect to 5G networks
In March 2019, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association released the industry's first database tracking worldwide 5G device launches. In it, the GSA identified 23 vendors who have confirmed the availability of forthcoming 5G devices with 33 different devices including regional variants.
There were seven announced 5G device form factors: (telephones (×12 devices), hotspots (×4), indoor and outdoor customer-premises equipment (×8), modules (×5), Snap-on dongles and adapters (×2), and USB terminals (×1)). By October 2019, the number of announced 5G devices had risen to 129, across 15 form factors, from 56 vendors.
In the 5G IoT chipset arena, as of April 2019 there were four commercial 5G modem chipsets and one commercial processor/platform, with more launches expected in the near future.
5G NR frequency bands
The air interface defined by 3GPP for 5G is known as New Radio (NR), and the specification is subdivided into two frequency bands, FR1 (below 6 GHz) and FR2 (mmWave), each with different capabilities.
Frequency range 1 (< 6 GHz)
The maximum channel bandwidth defined for FR1 is 100 MHz, due to the scarcity of continuous spectrum in this crowded frequency range. The band most widely being used for 5G in this range is 3.3–4.2 GHz. The Korean carriers are using n78 band at 3.5 GHz although some millimeter wave spectrum has also been allocated.
Frequency range 2 (> 24 GHz)
The minimum channel bandwidth defined for FR2 is 50 MHz and the maximum is 400 MHz, with two-channel aggregation supported in 3GPP Release 15. In the U.S., Verizon is using n258 band 28 GHz and AT&T is using 39 GHz. The higher the frequency, the greater the ability to support high data-transfer speeds.
5G in the 24 GHz range or above use higher frequencies than 4G, and as a result, some 5G signals are not capable of traveling large distances (over a few hundred meters), unlike 4G or lower frequency 5G signals (sub 6 GHz). This requires placing 5G base stations every few hundred meters in order to use higher frequency bands. Also, these higher frequency
5G signals cannot penetrate solid objects easily, such as cars, trees, and walls, because of the nature of these higher frequency electromagnetic waves. 5G cells can be deliberately designed to be as inconspicuous as possible, which finds applications in places like restaurants and shopping malls.
Mobile edge computing
Edge computing is delivered by computing servers closer to the ultimate user. It reduces latency and data traffic congestion.
Small cells are low-powered cellular radio access nodes that operate in licensed and unlicensed spectrum that have a range of 10 meters to a few kilometers. Small cells are critical to 5G networks, as 5G's radio waves can't travel long distances, because of 5G's higher frequencies.
Beamforming, as the name suggests, is used to direct radio waves to a target. This is achieved by shaping the radio waves to point in a specific direction. The technique combines the power from elements of the antenna array in such a way that signals at particular angles experience constructive interference, while other signals pointing to other angles experience destructive interference.
This improves signal quality in the specific direction, as well as data transfer speeds. 5G uses beamforming to improve the signal quality it provides. Beamforming can be accomplished using phased array antennas.
Convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular
One expected benefit of the transition to 5G is the convergence of multiple networking functions to achieve cost, power, and complexity reductions. LTE has targeted convergence with Wi-Fi band/technology via various efforts, such as License Assisted Access (LAA; 5G signal in unlicensed frequency bands that are also used by Wi-Fi) and LTE-WLAN Aggregation (LWA; convergence with Wi-Fi Radio), but the differing capabilities of cellular and Wi-Fi have limited the scope of convergence.
However, significant improvement in cellular performance specifications in 5G, combined with migration from Distributed Radio Access Network (D-RAN) to Cloud- or Centralized-RAN (C-RAN) and rollout of cellular small cells can potentially narrow the gap between Wi-Fi and cellular networks in dense and indoor deployments. Radio convergence could result in sharing ranging from the aggregation of cellular and Wi-Fi channels to the use of a single silicon device for multiple radio access technologies.
The channel coding techniques for 5G NR have changed from Turbo codes in 4G to polar codes for the control channels and LDPC (low-density parity check codes) for the data channels.
Operation in unlicensed spectrum
Like LTE in unlicensed spectrum, 5G NR will also support operation in unlicensed spectrum (NR-U). In addition to License Assisted Access (LAA) from LTE that enable carriers to use those unlicensed spectrum to boost their operational performance for users,
In 5G NR it will support standalone NR-U unlicensed operation that will allow new 5G NR networks to be established in different environments without acquiring operational license in licensed spectrum, for instance for localized private network or lower the entry barrier for providing 5G internet services to the public.
The spectrum used by various 5G proposals will be near that of passive remote sensing such as by weather and Earth observation satellites, particularly for water vapor monitoring.
Interference will occur and will potentially be significant without effective controls. An increase in interference already occurred with some other prior proximate band usages.
Interference to satellite operations impairs numerical weather prediction performance with substantially deleterious economic and public safety impacts in areas such as commercial aviation.
The concerns prompted U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in February 2019 to urge the FCC to delay some spectrum auction proposals, which was rejected. The chairs of the House Appropriations Committee and House Science Committee wrote separate letters to FCC chair Ajit Pai asking for further review and consultation with NOAA, NASA, and DoD, and warning of harmful impacts to national security.
Acting NOAA director Neil Jacobs testified before the House Committee in May 2019 that 5G out-of-band emissions could produce a 30% reduction in weather forecast accuracy and that the resulting degradation in ECMWF model performance would have resulted in failure to predict the track and thus the impact of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The United States Navy in March 2019 wrote a memorandum warning of deterioration and made technical suggestions to control band bleed-over limits, for testing and fielding, and for coordination of the wireless industry and regulators with weather forecasting organizations.
At the 2019 quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), atmospheric scientists advocated for a strong buffer of −55 dBW, European regulators agreed on a recommendation of −42 dBW, and US regulators (the FCC) recommended a restriction of −20 dBW, which would permit signals 150 times stronger than the European proposal.
The ITU decided on an intermediate −33 dBW until September 1, 2027 and after that a standard of −39 dBW. This is closer to the European recommendation but even the delayed higher standard is much weaker than that pleaded for by atmospheric scientists, triggering warnings from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that the ITU standard, at 10 times less stringent than its recommendation, brings the "potential to significantly degrade the accuracy of data collected".
A representative of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) also warned of interference, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), sternly warned, saying that society risks "history repeat[ing] itself" by ignoring atmospheric scientists' warnings (referencing global warming, monitoring of which could be imperiled).
In December 2019, a bipartisan request was sent from the US House Science Committee to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate why there is such a discrepancy between recommendations of US civilian and military science agencies and the regulator, the FCC.
Further information: Concerns over Chinese involvement in 5G wireless networks and Criticism of Huawei § Espionage and security concerns
A report published by the European Commission and European Agency for Cybersecurity details the security issues surrounding 5G. The report warns against using a single supplier for a carrier's 5G infrastructure, especially those based outside the European Union. (Nokia and Ericsson are the only European manufacturers of 5G equipment.)
Due to fears of potential espionage of users of Chinese equipment vendors, several countries (including the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom as of early 2019) have taken actions to restrict or eliminate the use of Chinese equipment in their respective 5G networks.
Chinese vendors and the Chinese government have denied claims of espionage. On 7 October 2020, the U.K. Parliament's Defence Committee released a report claiming that there was clear evidence of collusion between Huawei and Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party.
The U.K. Parliament's Defence Committee said that the government should consider removal of all Huawei equipment from its 5G networks earlier than planned.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories
There are a number of debunked claims and conspiracy theories around 5G, some of which became particularly prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wireless device radiation and health
The scientific consensus is that 5G technology is safe. Misunderstanding of 5G technology has given rise to conspiracy theories claiming it has an adverse effect on human health.
There have been a number of concerns over the spread of disinformation in the media and online regarding the potential health effects of 5G technology. Writing in The New York Times in 2019, William Broad reported that RT America began airing programming linking 5G to harmful health effects which "lack scientific support", such as "brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors, and Alzheimer's disease".
Broad asserted that the claims had increased. RT America had run seven programs on this theme by mid-April 2019 but only one in the whole of 2018. The network's coverage had spread to hundreds of blogs and websites.
COVID-19 conspiracy theories and arson attacks
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several conspiracy theories circulating online posited a link between severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and 5G. This has led to dozens of arson attacks being made on telecom masts in the Netherlands