Making 5G the do-everything wireless network of the future

Dropped calls or a spotty smartphone connection can drive anyone bonkers, but a bad wireless connection to an autonomous car can drive it off a cliff.

The Internet-of-me-and-my-things era is taking shape as world technology leaders race to build so-called 5G wireless networks, slated to switch on for the masses in 2020.

A reliable Internet connection is vital to an increasing number of aspects in daily life. It has become as intrinsic to people’s homes as water pipes and electrical wiring, according to 10 Hot Consumer Trends 2016, a report by Ericsson’s ConsumerLab that’s representative of over 1 billion people across 24 countries.

The Ericsson report showed 55 percent of smartphone users believe that within five years their own homes will have embedded sensors that look for construction errors, mould/damp build up, water leaks, fires and electricity issues.

As more people use the Internet to automatically and remotely control their home’s heating systems, keep a webcam eye on pets, pilot personal drones or augment real-life with digital experiences, some worry that this digital world could grind to a screeching halt if wireless networks around the globe aren’t up to the task.

According to Aicha Evans, vice president of the Intel Communication and Devices Group, even the world’s fastest, most advanced 4G networks aren’t future-proofed to handle the torrent of wireless data shared simultaneously by people, devices and machines.

“There will be 50 billion things on the network — human beings, devices, machines — by 2020, and it will only explode from there,” Evans said.

Aicha Evans, vice president of the Intel Communication and Devices Group, at Mobile World Congress 2016

To keep the destiny of the digital world from literally exploding, Evans is making sure future wireless networks are more intelligent, efficient and capable than today’s most advanced 4G networks.

To this end, she’s architecting new computer and communication innovations that harness existing mobile networks and wireless technologies — such as 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi — while increasing data transmission speeds up to 10 gigabits per second.

“5G networks will be about 66 times faster than 4G,” wrote CNET’s Stephen Shankland. He believes that will help self-driving cars make time-critical reactions, video chats feel more realistic and cities monitor traffic congestion, pollution levels and parking demand in real time.

Evans calls 5G the third digital revolution.

“When we talk about 5G, we have to take it in the context of the evolution of networks from 2G for voice, 3G for data and 4G for the explosion of data and video streaming,” she said.

Crucially, 5G is being built for what people and things will need in the future. It will need to handle 7 billion or more people and nearly five-times as many machines talking at the same time through technology that flies invisibly through the air, around obstacles and into buildings.

It will need to give people control over rich media experiences, like choosing particular camera perspectives on a live sporting event. It will also need power the growing Internet of Things, allowing autonomous cars, smart home appliances and manufacturing machinery to communicate and function with little or no human intercession.

“When you start thinking about machines being on the network for industrial applications, entertainment or for smart cities, the network will need to be way more efficient, way smarter in handling the connections and really pick the best route for a particular application,” Evans said.

Currently, most wireless communications run on a single-mode transmission. For example, a voice command to a smartphone fetches results from an Internet search or a phone call initiates back and forth communication.

With 5G technology, wireless communications will become interactive, dynamic and responsive by funnelling in and out of existing networks, adjusting to deliver the best experience for each particular device.

Things that take seconds, minutes or even days to load or send today will be delivered in milliseconds when 5G technology becomes available, according to Evans.

“We think that this is going to be the underpinning of the next wave of the modern economy because there’s just going to be tons of data going around,” she said.

5G technology can bring precision farming efficiencies across huge areas of land, track rented cars or bikes in and around urban areas, and bring virtual and augmented experiences to stores, museums and entertainment parks.

In his article How 5G Will Push a Supercharged Network to Your Phone, Home and Car, Shankland pointed out how Google’s Nest thermostats and net-connected smoke detectors are already making homes smarter.

Shankland said automakers are developing self-driving connected cars. Data crunched from fitness wearables will help keep people healthier by warning of heart attacks or strokes. He also said cities like Barcelona are becoming smarter by using sensors to monitor everything from traffic and parking to pollution, water pressure and weather.

To feed these growing trends reliably and at lightning speeds, Evans said that Intel is taking a holistic approach, working with network operators, governments and regulators to ensure 5G is ready.

“It’s about the devices, the network itself and the infrastructure that is controlling the network,” she said. “It’s about the data centers, servers, analytics, and all of that, end-to-end, coming together and making the smartest decisions possible for the best possible use of the network resulting in the best user experience.”

To make it all work, “This is going to be about partnerships,” she told The Wall Street Journal.

For anyone unconvinced a new network is necessary, Evans suggested looking at today’s teenagers, who she dubs super-users of all kinds of devices like Amazon Echo, tablets, smartphones, laptops, connected TVs and GoPro cameras. They even fly drones and capture 4K video that someday could be wirelessly live streamed from the sky to smartphones and tablets.

“The teenagers actually get what’s missing currently in the network today,” she said. “They want us to fix that. We will make the network ready so everybody can enjoy it.”

Learn more about 5G technology innovation at Mobile World Congress 2016.

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