Will 5G Replace Ethernet?

As we utilize mobile technology on a wider scale in the future, the need for faster and more reliable connectivity has never been so important. 5G is the next generation of wireless networking technology and, in short, promises to deliver ultra-fast speeds and responsiveness to connect everything around us without interruption. This technology has been designed to accommodate the changing needs of connectivity demands, so will it replace Ethernet in the future?

Practicality of 5G

Although this technology enables super fast wireless application, the proportion of the network will still need to be fiber fed and for most of the country, this infrastructure is not in place. Whilst urban areas may enjoy 5G, there are still suburban and rural locations that do not have the framework to support this. There is then the matter of the locality of the transmitters, which will be required to deliver 5G frequencies. Although ground based antenna similar to that of 3G/4G networks will provide support, the short delivery distances of 5G wave frequencies will mean they will have to be closer to the end user for maximum benefit. This could mean more antennas are needed to keep fluid connectivity from location to location. There will also be a few issues with coverage too, as due to the higher frequencies used in 5G applications, it has difficulty penetrating solid objects such as walls, buildings and windows. This could be solved in the short-term with smaller hubs of 5G, which can be implemented in largely populated areas such as major cities. In terms of speed, it is promised that this network will support significant improvements compared to that of 4G. In recent trials, this has been achieved but for real-world applications, it is yet unknown the exact capabilities. Sharing similar traits to 4G connectivity, speeds may be affected by coverage, signal quality and how many people are using the network at once. Speeds may also not be fully realized, as users do not have the smartphones to exploit the full benefits of 5G. The cost alone of this infrastructure investment is a huge consideration for companies looking to provide this service and at present only appears to be considered where it makes economic sense. Andy Egan, Director at Adept IT, adds: "5G is a mobile data based communication method. While substantially it could be similar to Wifi technology, 5G based services communicate on different radio frequencies to standard "Wifi" style technologies, and they use different hardware and communication methods. "I feel that within a corporate environment, AC wireless is rapidly becoming the defacto standard (especially for small environments), but it's not as simple and easy to make a whole enterprise or organisation wireless the same way you can do at home. Servers, in particular, I expect to remain using ethernet for far into the foreseeable future (the other alternative here is Fibre.) 5G will provide dramatic speed increases over both 3G and 4G technologies (which is what mobile phones currently use). "While there are no specific rival technologies (at least on a wireless based level) I can think of, 5G has actually been in development for a number of years, so 6G and other new technologies are probably being quietly worked on. 5G, as a mobile service, I think we can expect it to start showing up on phones in 2019 and be adopted readily on newer phones as people phase out their old services through 2020 to 2022. Roger Smith from RNI Consulting, says: "5G is great, except for a number of problems. Firstly, the wave length of the carrier signal is smaller, meaning that towers have to be closer together. Depending on the density of the surrounding buildings, to get decent coverage, we will need towers 500 MR apart. "Secondly, coming from a security perspective, to handle the size of the wavelength, they have split the underlying level (physical) into 5 separate levels. Because of this, the security surrounding each one is going to be hard to secure. "Finally, there will be no noticeable speed difference for humans. Yes, it will increase the speed of connection for IOT devices, but we will not see a vast improvement in the speed from a usage perspective." Additionally, as Deanne Hislop, a Building Biologist at Building Biologies, people should also educate themselves on the potential biological effects and hazards from using 5G.

Will 5G replace your home broadband?

While 5G is still some time away for consumers, one of the most obvious applications of this technology will be to replace your home broadband service. There have already been trials in the US and this demonstrates that you won’t need cables laid to enjoy fast Internet speeds. This technology may not be seen as a direct replacement but purely a better option for people that can access sufficient signal. It will also be a great option for people that move around a lot, as this means they will be able to take their contract with them and not be restricted by locality. Mika Skarp, CEO at Cloud Street, says: "Yes, most certainly 5G will replace Ethernet, but it will do much, much more, and it needs to. Though 5G won’t replace the fibre backhaul any time soon, the shelf-life and cost of fibre, and the lowering cost and dramatically improved flexibility of virtualized RAN make increasingly prohibitive. Software Defined Networks (SDC) and Network Function Virtualization within the 5G world, whether supported by small cells or full size base stations will not only cut the last mile of fibre to the core network, but will also provide for an array of intelligent, adaptive and even application-aware features that will make it a true game-changer in telecommunications for consumers and enterprises alike. "Now, instead of settling for a dumb pipe to a sluggish and unreliable wireless access point via WiFi, or last generation cellular, a 5G base station will provide coverage from 100s of meters to 10s of kilometers (depending on population density), at some 100 times the capacity or latency that even the fastest wireless connections can provide."

When can we expect 5G?

5G was trailed at the Winter Olympics in Seoul and after recent announcements, the first cities will be adopting 5G by the end of 2018. At present 5G is an expensive and time-consuming technology to implement. It’s no surprise that many service providers are eager to bring this networking connectivity to the market over the next few years but as with all major technological implementations, it may be a while before everyone can benefit from super-fast speeds at an affordable cost. Laurie Patton from The Lucky General is a former executive directors of Internet Australia, where he was a highly vocal advocate for #BetterBroadband. He says: "Put simply, the view of most experts is that 5G mobile will become a complementary product, and not a replacement for fixed broadband services. The cost of deploying and maintaining mobile networks, plus the scarcity of spectrum, dictates that we will still need a national network of 'wired' broadband. "5G networks will require three to four times as many cell sites as 4G. This means it will be quite some time before we see it become available everywhere. In vast countries like Australia the cost of 5G may well be prohibitive in more remote areas."

When can we expect 5G to be mainstream?

Bryan Spratt, Portfolio Manager from Miller/Howard Investments notes "The network has been evolving and upgrading for a long time, but 5G will be a giant leap forward. Target markets will begin to see roll-outs in 5G to customers later this year and expect it to be more widely available by 2020. 5G smartphones should start to be available in 2019 and estimates suggest $50 to $100 billion will be spent in the coming years."  

October 8, 2018
Networking

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