Transformative 5G
And A Look at What’s Next

Transformative 5G
And A Look at What’s Next

August 2021:

Transformative 5G
and A Look at What’s Next

The interplay of 5G, edge, and AI is changing industries, and ‘6G’ is already more than a sparkle in researchers’ eyes.

5G is becoming a commercial reality across the world, and more than 30% of nations now have access to it. Unlike previous generations, 5G—the fifth generation of wireless cellular networks, is about more than improving network capacity. It’s more than a speed upgrade. 5G is the first wireless system to enable high data rates together with low latencies, high reliability, and higher intelligence, all with a secure network. This ability to rapidly connect millions of devices at high data rates is integrating disparate technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), cloud computing, AI (artificial intelligence), edge computing, and VR/AR (virtual reality/augmented reality), and this is game changing.

Thanks to 5G, more industries have been able to leverage wireless networks. It has enabled applications in the realms of smart manufacturing and autonomous driving, among others, that were not possible with earlier-generation systems. In fact, 5G is a foundational pillar of Industry 4.0—the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution that is uniting the physical and digital worlds. The fate of 5G is also intertwined with other technology trends, such as edge computing and AI.

Coming out of 2020, a year filled with unpredictable events that upended everything from supply chains to R&D (research and development) efforts at tech companies, has 5G taken a bit of a back seat in terms of investment? There are still some hurdles for 5G, and it’ll take concentrated efforts to overcome them. 5G is transformational, though, and the natural next question is: What’s coming after 5G? “6G” is already more than a sparkle in researchers’ eyes, and there’s plenty to be excited about.

5G, AI, and the Edge

Viet Nguyen, director of public relations and technology for 5G Americas, says 5G networks offer incredible benefits to consumers and businesses, including fast downloads and uploads that will exceed 1 Gbps, very low network latency in the sub-10 millisecond range, and the ability to manage up to 1 million mobile devices per square kilometer. Standardization is helping to enable 5G’s progress. “Today, 5G uptake is rapidly progressing around the globe due to global standardization, having deployed 172 commercial 5G networks worldwide, reaching 298 million 5G customers as of the end of Q1 2021,” Nguyen says.

Development of 5G use cases continues to inspire new projects. “Attention has turned to how customers will maximize the use of 5G,” Nguyen adds. “We have barely begun to scratch the surface, but industrial automation, automated vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, extended reality, remote high-definition video and audio, precision agriculture, sensors for natural resource extraction, and other uses are starting to emerge as interesting use cases across many different industries.”

5G is simultaneously driving demand for and being shaped by edge computing. “Combined with edge computing, 5G networks will create a sort of ‘nervous system’ for tomorrow’s public and private networks, due to their ability to deliver low network latency for realtime operations,” Nguyen explains.

Source: VIAVI Solutions’ State of 5G Report

“This will be critical for services such as AR/VR, video and speech analytics, remote monitoring for video security, industrial automation, and automated vehicles.”

5G will enable IoT sensors and other devices to deliver a much wider range of data, such as high-definition or ultra-high-definition video, or it will allow them to deliver this data more efficiently to a larger number of devices, thereby saving power and spectrum. “In an edge-computing environment, a large amount of data will be processed locally rather than being sent to cloud servers,” Nguyen says. “5G-connected devices will make up an increasingly large share of this data as data throughput increases dramatically for 5G wireless devices and more devices become manageable within a given area.”

Harsh Tataria, assistant professor of communications engineering at Sweden’s Lund University, says 5G and edge computing are interlinked technologies, both poised to significantly improve the performance of applications and enable huge amounts of data to be shuffled and processed in realtime. “5G increases data rates of wireless networks by up to 10 times that of 4G, whereas the goal of edge computing is to reduce the overall latency by bringing compute capabilities into the network, closer to the end user,” Tataria explains. “This is so that content distribution with the radio access network takes place with extremely low latencies—a millisecond or less.”

Source: VIAVI Solutions’ State of 5G Report

With that said, Tataria stressed the idea that making this happen in a live network is a more complex task than it first comes across. For instance, he says placement of edge compute facilities along with its data centers and centralized/distributed unit interfaces with the radio access networks needs tremendous planning, capital expenditure, and operational expenditure from operators.

Michalis Matthaiou, professor of communications engineering and signal processing and deputy director of the Centre for Wireless Innovation at the Queen’s University Belfast, says in the future, edge computing architectures will be equipped with AI/ML (machine learning) capabilities to extract knowledge from a large amount of data to implement intelligent solutions, a concept known as intelligent edge management. “These architectures will be able to make data-driven inferences and decisions using AI/ML tools to support sharing of data, efficient use of limited computing and storage resources, (and) network heterogeneity, to name but a few,” Matthaiou says.

Source: VIAVI Solutions’ State of 5G Report

Applying AI in 5G is a transformative vision that will offer ubiquitous, reliable, and even personalized connectivity. “It comes as no surprise that future smart devices will be equipped with AI capabilities,” Matthaiou explains. “By doing so, we can avail of better radio awareness, radio security, and on-device inference for more efficient mobility and spectrum utilization. Such improvements will eventually offer better user experience, battery life, and new applications (like) haptics, extended reality, (and) augmented reality. In the longer term, AI will enable users to interact with their surrounding environment and other people through implanted or worn devices like nano-sensors, bringing closer the digital and physical worlds.” 

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AI also plays a critical role in 5G network management. “Currently, there exists a deluge of research works focused on how AI can be used to enhance the service quality, simplify deployment, boost the volumetric energy efficiency, and ‘robustify’ the network security from cyberattacks,” Matthaiou says. “Furthermore, AI will be the platform on which wireless communication will merge with computing, control, localization, and sensing. Think of a swarm of connected robots, which would need to perform a number of tasks inside a manufacturing site and take orders wirelessly from a central processor at the beginning of the day. These robots will be equipped with advanced AI capabilities in order to be able to autonomously navigate inside the manufacturing site, communicate with the other robots, sense the surrounding environment, and perform basic computing functionalities.”

Source: WhistleOut

Prepping for the Next ‘G’

There are some significant remaining hurdles for the global rollout of 5G, including the capital costs of installing 5G infrastructure and software upgrades. But the investment will be worth it. Branka Vucetic, director of the Centre for IoT and Telecommunications within the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at the University of Sydney, says 5G will power new use cases including VR/AR services for education, retail, healthcare, and construction. “Smart cities will benefit from 5G’s capacity to connect many devices that generate large amounts of data in short periods of time,” Vucetic says. “These devices should be able to work reliably and securely in high-density areas like factories, airports, and urban centers.”

And while she believes 5G will have an incredible impact on providing connectivity for industrial automation, self-driving vehicles, remote healthcare, and smart grids, Vucetic says there is still work to do as the 5G era unfolds. “5G has not started deploying URLLC (ultra-reliable-low-latency communications) yet, as the technology for it has not been developed,” she points out.”

“It will be developed over subsequent 5G standard releases in the next 10 years.”

Ted Rappaport, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at New York University and the founding director of NYU WIRELESS, lists additional hurdles for 5G, including creating power-efficient RF (radio-frequency) power amplifiers. “Integrating the many small-cell base stations and deploying them in the public right of way in order to provide suitable coverage and capacity for the new world of ‘small cells’ is continuing but is time and capital intensive,” Rappaport adds. “Learning how to create and implement highly integrated mmWave electronics and antennas in an efficient manner is a challenge as the wireless world becomes more directional and integrated at the RF front end, but this is happening in product design and development and will accelerate. Changing out the installed cellular infrastructure and the RF systems to accommodate the capacity improvements of Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) and millimeter wave is challenging (too) but is happening gradually and will continue to happen.”

4 Advantages of Edge Computing in the 5G Era

Michalis Matthaiou, director of the Centre for Wireless Innovation at the Queen’s University Belfast, lists four significant advantages of edge computing in the 5G era:

  1. Minimized latencies, thereby contributing to the development of URLLC applications
  2. Drastically reduced backhaul loads, which represent the bottleneck of concurrent, wireless networks
  3. Minimized overall power consumption, where the power required to retrieve data from local end users is much smaller than from the core network
  4. The creation of new opportunities for content caching and device-to-device communications without accessing the cellular infrastructure

Andreas Molisch, professor and head of the WiDeS (Wireless Devices and Systems) Group at the University of Southern California, says global adoption of 5G will unlock a wealth of realtime services and many more millions of people will have access to fast connections because of it. And while the emphasis on reliability and low latency in 5G is an important step toward enabling realtime edge computing, Molisch says the current provisions in 5G aren’t sufficient for many applications. In other words, 5G is great … but what about “6G”?

Source: 5G at the Edge whitepaper

Andreas Molisch, professor and head of the WiDeS (Wireless Devices and Systems) Group at the University of Southern California, says global adoption of 5G will unlock a wealth of realtime services and many more millions of people will have access to fast connections because of it. And while the emphasis on reliability and low latency in 5G is an important step toward enabling realtime edge computing, Molisch says the current provisions in 5G aren’t sufficient for many applications. In other words, 5G is great … but what about “6G”? Research on 6G has already started. Together with Tataria and several other peers, Molisch wrote a paper on 6G that outlines requirements and technical approaches.

“In a nutshell, the need for high data rates will increase unabated, with new applications like holographic communications and augmented reality driving required data rates to 100 Gbit/s and more per user, and with latency requirements—for example, for tractile internet—reducing to fractions of a millisecond,” Molisch says. “All of this will require a wealth of new technologies, from the use of the Terahertz spectrum to new network architectures. While standardization of these systems will still take quite a few years, the research is ongoing in both academia and industrial research labs.”

Historically, Matthaiou from the Queen’s University Belfast says every generation of wireless communications has a lifespan of 30 years, including 10 years of incubation (from theoretical conception to rollout) and 20 years of commercial exploitation. “Looking ahead, there is a vibrant research momentum towards the sixth generation of wireless communications, which should be a commercial reality by 2030,” Matthaiou says. 

“The vision behind 6G is to revolutionize wireless connectivity—both terrestrial and aerial—by offering unprecedented improvements in latency, network density, energy, and spectral efficiency. In the 6G space, AI will be a fundamental ingredient to support a broad spectrum of emerging applications (such as) extended reality, smart wearables, telemedicine, haptics, flying vehicles, brain-computer interfaces, and teletransportation.”

The global adoption of 5G will provide the speed, low latency, and connectivity to enable a new generation of applications, services, and business opportunities that couldn’t exist in the past. From smart agriculture to telemedicine, smart cities, smart factories, and beyond, 5G (and its intersection with both edge and AI technologies) is unlocking business value in numerous industries, and it’s shaping up to be a defining generation of wireless communications technology. And yet, researchers’ eyes are already looking toward what’s next—the next ‘G’, which could even more fully fuse the physical and digital worlds. From immersive media and robots with skillsets beyond what we’ve seen before to wearable and implantable sensors, brain-machine communications, and even brain-to-brain communications, one of the most exciting things about 5G is that it’s laying the groundwork for 6G and all that is could have to offer.

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Peggy and Tim Linsenmeyer, CTO, Clover Imaging Group and Michael Walton, industry solution executive, manufacturing industry, Microsoft, talk about how Clover Imagining is leveraging AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) to help disabled adults gain meaningful employment. They talk about how a machine-learning sales forecasting system helped right-size inventory and labor.

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