Ultra-Reliable & Low-Latency Communication: 5G’s Game Changer

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5G’s URLLC could redefine the telecommunication landscape as we know it. Brimming with untapped potential, 5G URLLC networks can revolutionize the way we engage with smart devices, computer games, and even vehicles. Slated to roll out by the end of 2019, there are growing concerns about whether 5G URLLC networks are ready to be integrated into our existing 4G structure.

It seems hardly a week goes by anymore without some shrill announcement trumpeting the wonders of 5G and the vague promise of a new era in mobile telecommunications.

If we’re to believe the reports — and most of them are echoing the same key 5G facts — we can expect broadband speeds to get even broader (up to 100 times faster than current 4G speeds), smartphones to feature standardized on-device AI, vastly improved Virtual Reality software, and the capability to download and play true 4K videos with ease.

 

And that’s just for starters. With all the added muscle, the fabled IoT (Internet of Things) can become an entrenched reality, with smart devices communicating with other smart devices to improve your daily life. Picture this: in addition to driverless vehicles flawlessly navigating your route back home, your car’s onboard 5G device can then “talk” to your smart home appliances, announcing your arrival as you pull into the driveway by lighting your path and cueing up your favorite TV show.

So what exactly makes 5G the next “big thing” around the corner? Ultra-Reliable & Low-Latency Communication, or URLLC.

With the relentless growth in wireless traffic, URLLC is capable of delivering vast amounts of data with uninterrupted communications flow as it addresses two key challenges: the time taken for data requests to be acknowledged (latency) and the time taken to deliver content (text, images, and video) to your mobile device (data rates).

Current 4G wireless cellular networks have a nominal latency of about 50ms. However, this latency is also unpredictable and can spike up to several seconds, making it a non-starter for the needs of 5G communications and applications.

 

 

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has proclaimed that 5G networks have a latency of just 1ms while 5G peak data rates call for at least 20Gbps downlink and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station.

It’s these remarkable specifications that will theoretically provide vehicles in urban conditions the data bandwidth and speed necessary to safely navigate in real-time. Previously unheard of possibilities in online gaming (5G games, Extended Reality headsets, etc.), office and shop floor automation, and remote medical procedures are also within the realm of possibility as a result of 5G’s URLLC.

A critical advantage of 5G technology is its ability to co-exist alongside 4G. Not only will this make the eventual transition to 5G a smoother rollout, but it encourages telcos to utilize 4G and 5G systems simultaneously to augment each other.

 

5G is no longer a dream of the distant future. One study by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) specifies that “URLLC for 5G wireless networks and beyond is of capital importance”. With commercial rollouts of dedicated 5G networks anticipated to begin in late 2019 to early 2020 around the world, anticipation is heating up. Before this brimming, next era of technology, however, a few challenges will still need to be addressed.

First, 5G standards have to be drafted and ratified. Not exactly a speedy process.

Second, telcos may be reluctant to roll out 5G networks having invested so much into 4G and 4G LTE networks. With the ever-shifting landscape of telecommunications growing more competitive by the day, any number of premature decisions into new territory could spell financial disaster.

Third, the consumer world remains relatively unprepared for the advent of a 5G era. Handset manufacturers have only offered scant details about 5G-enabled phone accessories, while content providers are still very much geared towards 4G content.

These issues aside, the next few years may likely usher in a technological “gold rush” as data service and content providers scramble to stake their claims in 5G’s newly forged, low-latency world.