• Chetan Shetty, COO

5 Things About 5G

If you were expecting the announcement of a launch date for 5G wireless technology, there isn’t going to be one. Yet every day, brick by brick, cell by cell, tower by tower, 5G technology is being rolled-out around you. Don’t be that frog in boiling water – and not realize that this revolution taking place all around you.


If you are an expert on the subject – only read further to point out any mistakes I may have made. This piece is for those who know that they don’t know much but want to know and didn’t know where to start. Because there is so much to say – let’s limit ourselves to 5 things that can get you started on your journey. You should be able to make sense of the next new article on 5G Technology that you come across.

1. The wonders of 5G – how did it evolve, what does it promise?

In the early 90s, I was a young man on a business trip to London. I heard the screeching of a car trying to stop and then saw the car hit an old lady who was crossing the street, where there was no zebra. The old lady was sprawled on the road. The lady driver of the car was hysterically in tears at the wheel. And I saw 3 gentlemen around, kneel, open their briefcases and take out a huge cellphone and call the emergency number. Wow! They carried their phones with them. Their phone belonged to them – not to a location. The first generation of mobile phones was here.

In the late 90s here in India, I was having dinner with friends – and I noticed that my friend Aju was constantly telling us what her sister in Hyderabad had to say about our conversation. How was she doing that? I then realized that she was SMS-ing her sister. Wow! SMS, how cool. Voice AND text – that was 2G.

Then around 2005, I went to the now topical Serum Institute to meet the Director, and when he saw me, he said, “Oh, I sent you an email postponing our meeting to tomorrow”. But I hadn’t seen any email before I left the office. The Director said, “I expected you would check your email on your phone”. What? You can get an email on your phone? Voice, text, AND the Internet – 3G was here!

And then in 2010-2011, we saw the explosion of video content being streamed. India is proud to have over 500 million smartphone users. In the deepest village in Rajasthan, there are village belles with big ghoonghats – and under the ghoonghat they have a mobile phone streaming Bollywood and TV content – that was how 4G impacted us. Voice, text, the Internet, AND STREAMING VIDEOS.

Now we have 5G round the corner! What does it promise?

  • Enhanced mobile bandwidth – download HD movies in seconds!

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) everywhere – millions of IoT devices talking to other devices. 5G technology goes way beyond the phone. It makes the promise of Industry 4.0, with machines on the shop floor communicating with each other, signaling the entire supply chain – entirely possible. Better traffic management – saving time and lives!

  • Ultra-reliable low-latency applications: Drone security, autonomous cars, and collision detection systems.

2. Millimeter wave:

You better know what this millimeter wave is! Or MMW! Or mmWave!

5G wireless technology uses high frequency-low wavelength waves. 4G typically uses that part of the spectrum where the frequency is less than 6 GHz. Whereas, 5G will use waves up to 40 GHz. As a consequence, these waves have a low wavelength. The wavelength is measured in millimeters and ranges from 1 to 10 millimeters (4G’s waves are measured in centimeters). Thus, these waves are called MILLIMETER waves.

The key characteristics of mmWave used in the 5G technology are that – they have ‘greater spectral efficiency’ but also ‘higher atmospheric attenuation’. What does that mean? Greater spectral efficiency implies that these waves can carry a lot of data – a lot more data for a given spectrum – more bits/Hz – which is what we want for enhanced mobile bandwidth. But, the higher atmospheric attenuation implies that these mmWaves cannot travel very far and are easily obstructed by trees and walls. So, we will need many, many more towers than what 4G required. 4G towers covered a radius of several kilometers. With 5G, we will need a tower every kilometer. It is estimated that the US alone will need a million more towers.

What about the health hazards of these mmWaves? Well, studies are being done every day and new reports keep coming out – but, so far, what we understand is that – just as the mmWaves are obstructed by trees and walls – they cannot penetrate the human skin too far. So damage to any internal organs is negligible. However, it can act on the skin and the eyes. And, it acts to raise the temperature of the tissue. But, given the low power levels, this increase in temperature is only a tenth of a degree centigrade – which again has NO conclusive impact on the health of human beings.

3. Virtualization – it’s all about software

The paradigm shift in 5G is that the standards dictate that 5G technology can be built using general commercial off-the-shelf hardware. Until now, until 4G, the telecom equipme


nt manufacturers like Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung built proprietary ‘purpose-built’ hardware. And, once a mobile operator like Jio or Airtel bought their system, they were completely tied in. Every new feature and every new update could imply additional proprietary hardware. But, with 5G, the entire technology is in the software that can run on any server. And, the language of the software will be Internet Protocol (IP) – that has been around for ages.

This breaks the stranglehold that a few companies had over the market and will hopefully lead to better innovation and lower prices.

However, since it is all software, we would need to be all the more careful about data security. Countries, companies, and individuals need to make sure that they have taken the necessary precautions to prevent the breach of security.


4. Who are the big players in 5G technology?

In the second place, we have Nokia which is followed by Ericsson. Then we have a few others like ZTE and Samsung. Samsung recently won a $6.6B deal from Verizon in the US.

However, by far, the number 1 position is held by the bad boy of the telecom world – Huawei. Huawei has been banned by several countries – ostensibly because they are a Chinese company and might therefore provide the Chinese government a backdoor into every network they operate. But, can you keep Huawei out? They have 4 times the revenue of Nokia and own more patents in telecom than any other company in the world. They have an installed base of 4G in 170 countries.

The big news in India is that Jio announced that it would be launching its own 5G Open Virtual Radio Access Network (O-RAN). They have had 1,000 engineers working on this for the last 4 years. They will not only deploy this technology themselves but will sell this to other mobile operators around the world! So, Jio moves from being a mobile operator to being a supplier of 5G technology in direct competition to Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, and the rest. This is the game-changing paradigm shift that comes from the virtualization of 5G wireless technology. In recent months, Jio’s parent company Reliance Industries has attracted investments from several global giants like Intel, Facebook, Google, and Qualcomm – all of whom are members of the Open RAN Policy Coalition.

But when it comes to O-RANs, another company to watch is Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. Rakuten will be launching their 5G O-RAN in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, anytime now. September 2020 was the scheduled launch date.

Altiostar is making waves too. They were early movers in creating these software versions of telecom gear – Virtual Radio Access Networks. Founded by Ashraf Dahod, who was born in Mumbai, the company has investments from Rakuten among others, and runs a large development center in Bengaluru. Bharti Airtel is among Altiostar’s recent clients.

Tech Mahindra is making a big play to be the system integrator of the O-RANs. They have bagged a great deal from Rakuten.

Coming to individuals, Tareq Amin is the name that is most synonymous with 5G technology. Now leading the charge at Rakuten, he was among the technology leaders at Jio, before he moved to Rakuten.

5. 5G and you

How can you prepare for 5G? Why should you care? Do keep the technology hype cycle in mind. All technologies tend to be over-rated in the short-term and under-rated in the long-term. We will all get initially carried away by the hype, which will inevitably be followed by a bursting of the bubble. But, when the dust settles there will be real progress that revolutionizes life around us. So, if you can, see through the hype and time your investment into 5G.

A superfast low latency network by itself is not transformational. It is the application of this super network that will be transformational.

So, we all need to think. While those who battle it out to build the 5G network, you and I should be brainstorming on how can we – or how can our clients take advantage of their super-high bandwidth – this low latency network? Think!


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