5G is being designed to support a huge variety of use cases. For that, we need a more flexible type of radio – 5G New Radio.
5G is the first generation of wireless that’s been built thinking of use cases beyond a smartphone or tablet.
See, in a 4G world, the primary focus was on mobile broadband and there was only one way of resource allocation in terms of frequency and time. . Graphically, it looked something like this:
All 4G services had to use the same way of allocating frequency and time. But 5G is being built to cater to use cases with vastly different needs. The taller the box, the greater the bandwidth requirement, the thinner the box, the lower the transmission time.
To understand how 5G New Radio is going to cater for these use cases, we first need to take a quick look at spectrum.
The vertical axis: frequency
Wireless radios all use spectrum as a fundamental resource. As we’ve already discussed, 5G is going to use a much wider set of wireless spectrum than previous generations.
The low-band is great for coverage, high-band is great for capacity, and the mid-band is a great mix of the two.
And there’s a good reason that these different bands have different capabilities. It’s all to do with that vertical axis, frequency.
5G New Radio has much greater flexibility in the amount of frequency resources that it can use for a specific user or device. These allotments of frequency are referred to as carrier bandwidth and sub-carrier spacing.
With 4G, sub-carrier spacing was fixed at 15 kHz. Meaning the amount of data that could be transferred in a set time was dictated by that frequency allocation. With 5G, the big shift is that we’re going to have a variety of larger and larger sub-carrier spacings to use.
You can see that as we move into higher spectrum bands, the sub-carrier spacing increases. The wider the spectrum bandwidth, the greater the capacity and speed.
But that’s only part of the equation, because that whole ‘in a set time’ bit is crucial too. How so? Glad you asked.
The horizontal axis: Time
These larger sub-carrier spacings have an interesting effect on the timing of when data can be transmitted.
Imagine there’s a set amount of data being transmitted in a digital package. That ‘package’ is called a slot.
By increasing the sub-carrier sizing, 5G can fit more slots into the same window of time that a single slot would take to transmit on 4G. And the more slots you get into that window of time, the quicker data can be transmitted and the lower the latency.
So, now you can see different subframe structures supporting varying slot sizes that allow different use cases.
The result is that users get exactly the speed, capacity and latency they need, when they need it. That’s why all this flexibility is such a big deal.
And now with 5G New Radio, the transmission from a transceiver looks more like this:
Okay, but when are we getting it?
There are a couple of different versions of 5G NR in the works. Non-standalone and Standalone. The 3GPP is still refining the standards that make up 5G NR, but carriers will be launching non-standalone in the early part of 2019.
The first version of 5G NR from Sprint to hit the market will coexist with 4G LTE, with a Massive MIMO array working in ‘split-mode’. This will allow users to benefit from the advantages of both 4G and 5G simultaneously in addition to making the rollout of 5G a lot faster.
The second version of 5G NR will work entirely independently of 4G LTE and will be a 5G New Radio connected to a dedicated 5G core. This won’t have the backwards compatibility of non-standalone. But it will be when all the benefits we’ve been talking about here come into play. And that means we get high-end features like network slicing.
For businesses, 5G is going to be a complete game-changer
As we’ve explained here, 5G NR is being designed to cater to a wider range of use cases than networks have ever catered to before. That’s big news for companies because it means they’ll have a vast range of ways to leverage 5G.
This will open up business opportunities that are currently unimaginable – and help businesses deliver on the use cases they’re already working on. 5G is so much more than 4G. It’s a completely new paradigm for businesses investing in transformation.