5G — what you should know


For a long time, we have been hearing in the media about 5G: various arguments for and against the technology are raised. There is plenty of speculation available, and a lot of interesting information, including some less pleasant aspects. Interestingly, there are as many supporters as opponents. Where does it come from? Why is there such a big deal about the topic that it quickly gained the status of extremely controversial? Are we afraid of new and interesting technology? Or maybe we’re just afraid of what we don’t know?  Is the fear justified?

I will try not to bore you and will only give you a brief analysis of the topic. I wonder what we’ll get to at the end of the article.

What exactly is 5G?

5G is an abbreviation that stands for the 5th generation of cellular networks. It’s expected to be faster than the currently available networks, such as 4G/LTE. Interestingly, 5G will allow us to connect multiple devices, which can significantly improve the quality of many aspects of our everyday life. Sounds familiar?

Compared to the previous generations, 5G is expected to provide much higher data transfer speeds, negligible latency, and more stable connections. 5G will bring an enormous number of additional devices online. The new technology will allow us to connect up to a million devices per square kilometre. Sounds like science fiction but is it?

A new standard for cellular networks appears to be a necessity. The research suggests that in 2020 the current mobile technology will be used by 5.5 billion users and over 50 billion devices. Unfortunately, with so many devices, the networks encounter problems and become overloaded. The amount of data consumed by a mobile internet user is about 3.5 GB, while in the current situation it could increase up to 20 GB. That’s a significant increase in data! You can also check how many devices you have at home. It used to be one phone and a computer, but today virtually every household member has a smartphone, smartwatch or tablet. So it seems that in fact the number of connected devices could equal the number of users.

According to the IMT-2020 specification published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the new network technology has the following features:

  • Transfer speeds — up to 20 Gbps download speed and up to 10 Gbps upload speed.
  • Latency — max. 4 ms, but even 1 ms is possible.
  • Network load — up to 1 million devices per square kilometre.
  • Reliability — maintaining a connection while travelling at speeds up to 500 km/h.

I am aware that everything looks nice on paper, and theory often differs from reality. However, according to the research and collected information, it was actually possible to achieve speeds 100 times faster compared to the 4G technology. In the real world, the values are larger by a one-digit number. However, it is still an amazing achievement in cellular network technology.

How does 5G work and how does it differ from 4G?

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To understand the 5G phenomenon and the high specifications that we’ve already mentioned, first we need to know how 5G works and how it differs from 4G.

4G uses frequencies in the 700–2600 MHz band. This frequency range is considerably broad. The 5G specification assumes the use of these frequencies — which also means backward compatibility — but also the addition of the following bands:

  • L Band — low frequency bands, such as 300 MHz, that will increase the network range.
  • Sub-6 — frequencies between 3000 and 6000 MHz to provide balanced speed and range capabilities.
  • mmWave — millimetre waves ranging from 17,000 to tens of thousands of MHz to ensure super fast speeds at short distances.

The quality of 5G largely depends on the leveraged technology solutions, with particular emphasis on these two technologies:

  • Beamforming — a signal processing technique used in sensor arrays (e.g. antenna arrays) for directional transmission and signal reception. The effect is obtained by arranging the radiating elements in a certain pattern so that the signals at certain angles are amplified, and others are attenuated. Beamforming can be used on both the transmitting and receiving sides to achieve spatial selectivity. To learn more about this, click here.
  • MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) — a solution that increases the bandwidth of wireless networks with multi-antenna transmission both on the sending and receiving endpoints. To learn more, click here.

Are there any advantages to using 5G networks?

I believe that 5G can definitely offer us new benefits and introduce new standards in the use of technology and the methods of data transfer. What’s more, it is supposed to be faster than 4G both in terms of transfers and response time, while also being more stable and reliable. It will support more devices, which is particularly important considering the growing number of mobile and other devices connected to the internet, and the use of technologies such as Smart Home.

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  • Internet of Things — it’s about our beloved Smart Home, which is one of the most important applications of 5G. Thanks to seamless and fast communication between many devices, everything will be within reach and we will be able to rely on their interoperability.
  • Automotive and transportation — 5G can have a huge impact on the automotive industry and transport. Vehicles will see each other on the network, and will be able to communicate with each other as well as with the urban infrastructure in the event of an emergency, accident or even traffic jams. Road traffic could eventually be improved. I know, it also sounds a bit like a fantasy. We have already seen technology like this in one of my favourite films, “Minority Report”. But why not do it?
  • Entertainment — 5G is not only for online games, etc. It’s also an opportunity to develop higher quality entertainment content. Live broadcasts of your favourite shows, matches or other events with huge crowds, or video streaming from VOD services in Full HD or even 4K. It’s possible that data transfers will be fast enough to make today’s wired connections a thing of the past. Wireless connections may be useful for downloading data from the cloud. This in turn means not only greater comfort, but also real savings as you won’t need a high performance computer at home.
  • Wi-Fi — one of the assumptions of 5G is to eliminate access points in the form of routers or hot spots from the infrastructure. This technology should be advanced enough to even replace Wi-Fi in some situations.

Digital security and 5G

5G is aligned with the concepts of the Smart Home and even the Smart City. Maybe this is a bit far-reaching assumption, but we aim to implement it in small steps. 5G also involves connecting a very large number of electronic devices to the network, but is it and will it be safe?

The most important issue is data security. Thinking about my colleague from the Data Protection Office (DPO), I naturally also expect questions related to personal data processing and ensuring their safety. I also wonder how my colleagues in GDPR and DPO will relate to this.

Almost every device connected to the network will process our data in one way or another. Moreover, it is highly likely that the risk of cyberattack would affect users, companies, institutions, and perhaps state economies themselves.

That’s why so much attention is devoted to increasing the level of cyber-security when building and developing infrastructure solutions. Network carriers will have to be responsible for this, but above all, we ourselves must not neglect adequate protection and good practices for using the network and sharing files, data and other multimedia. We need to be responsible and think about what we do online and how we do it. It’s a significant challenge, but I believe we are up to it.

Is 5G harmful to our health?

In addition to the risks associated with network security, we must also consider the impact of 5G on us, the users. Hence the questions about whether, despite all the advantages, the technology poses significant risks to human life and health, and whether it can cause various conditions or diseases.  

There are more and more claims online that 5G is pure evil designed to kill us all, make us sick, destroy our immune systems and eventually increase the risk of cancer. Many voices are telling us to destroy the 5G transmitters. There are even people who offer rewards for this kind of activity. What’s more, there are protests around the world that the radiation from 5G towers is allegedly dangerous to human health. There have been events in Poland as well, where people argue that the implementation of the new standard is “the largest biological experiment in the history of mankind.”

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However, the truth is a little different. Various tests have been carried out that do not support the claim that 5G is a threat to human health. As many of you have probably heard, the technology uses the same frequencies as the microwave oven. However, we must remember that power consumption of a microwave device is completely different than it is with devices using the 5G network. For this reason, the referenced comparison may be confusing, but wasn’t the same method used when we started using or switching to 4G networks?

In summary, based on currently available information, 5G technology does not appear to be harmful to human health. I encourage you to read this article in Polish: 5G and Health

5G in Poland

5G tests have been carried out in many facilities in various parts of the world. Based on the information I’ve found, it appears that the first commercial launch of 5G took place in Europe, Asia and the Americas around the beginning of 2020.

It was established that 2020 would be the year of launching 5G networks in the European Union, including Poland. In fact, the first attempts took place in 2019, when 5G was switched on and launched. However, it is a long-term process, and it will take many years to develop the infrastructure itself.

According to the plan, by 2025, all Polish cities and main roads should be covered by fifth generation mobile technology.

Summary

5G has many supporters as well as many opponents, as I mentioned at the beginning. It is good that tests are carried out to verify the operation and impact of the new technology on the human body, as well as how it works and what benefits it can bring. We should draw our knowledge from reliable sources based on solid foundations. Let’s not listen to fake news or the voices of people who use these “because no” arguments.

It’s true that 5G seems like science fiction, and that can lead to some anxiety, but isn’t it true that we’re always afraid of the unknown?

As I see it, the technology is rapidly advancing and it’s good for our world. 5G can be helpful not only in terms of our Smart Home and urban infrastructure systems, but also in medicine, education, transportation and many other fields. Cybersecurity can also be improved. In addition, 5G will provide opportunities to implement and acquire new technologies. I think that in the next few months or two years, network operators will strongly promote the new 5G solution, and we’ll all see how it goes.

I believe that technology development is important in many ways and we have nothing to be afraid of. I agree that we should approach it with caution and reason. As my Polish teacher used to say, “The whole world is open to a wise person.”

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