HomeInternet7 Technical and Procedural Hurdles for 5G Development

7 Technical and Procedural Hurdles for 5G Development

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The next-gen mobile data technology known as 5G has seemingly been on the verge of rollout for ages. As of early 2020, 5G networks have been deployed sporadically in some large cities, but we’re still far from the widespread coverage that will make 5G a household technology.

Why is 5G infrastructure taking so long to roll out? It turns out that there are many technical and procedural obstacles still remaining in the development and deployment of this technology. Let’s take a look at seven of the biggest hurdles that have been hampering the rollout of 5G technology.

1. 5G networks require large numbers of antennas.

 Let’s start with a problem that’s endemic to the nature of the 5G technology. While 5G offers a big data speed boost, its signature technology, millimeter wave antennas, have a much shorter range than those used by earlier technologies like 3G and 4G. In practice, that will mean that many more 5G antennas are needed, and in much smaller geographic areas, than were needed to deploy 4G.

Many large cities now have nascent 5G networks, but the numbers will need to significantly improve before 5G fulfills its potential. Rural areas, for the most part, aren’t even close to having 5G and it may never be economically feasible to install millimeter-wave antennas in remote places. Mid-band and low-band 5G, which doesn’t use millimeter waves, looks like it could be a feasible solution, but it won’t offer the blazing top speeds that are the hallmark of true 5G.

2. 5G’s building penetration is still not great.

 5G’s millimeter waves also have serious issues with penetrating thick, solid surfaces such as concrete, brick and plexiglass. In fact, many ultra-high-band frequencies can’t even penetrate a sheet of normal glass. That means that consistent 5G coverage inside buildings is likely to remain a heavy lift.

In some large venues, such as stadiums and airports, creating an indoor millimeter-wave 5G network may be feasible. These areas have enough simultaneous data users that creating an indoor network could be worth the cost. For other buildings, some carriers are touting mid-band and low-band 5G as the solution—but, again, there will be a noticeable trade-off in speed. It’s also possible that design changes, such as using different types of electronics enclosures, could improve building penetration, but such solutions will require additional research and investment.

 3. 5G consumes a lot of power.

 The lack of new breakthroughs in battery technology continues to vex smartphone manufacturers, and 5G is poised to make that worse. 5G is already gaining notoriety as a battery hog, and the large amounts of power it consumes may be an obstacle to its further adoption. Phone hardware manufacturers are promising that next-gen tech (like Qualcomm’s X60 modem) will substantially reduce battery drain from 5G, but consumers will believe it when they see it.

4. Safety concerns may continue to be present.

The conspiracy theories about 5G and coronavirus are obviously baseless, and no real evidence has yet emerged that 5G is unsafe in any way. In fact, the world’s leading radiation watchdog organization recently declared 5G officially safe for use. The radiation emitted from a cellular antenna remains less dangerous than the UV solar radiation that most people encounter every day when they go outside.

That said, there is still concern among some researchers that we don’t fully understand the safety implications of 5G. Part of the problem is that research on any kind of radiation is difficult and often inconclusive. The public (and the media) often misunderstand scientific research and jump to wild conclusions, increasing the challenge of studying a controversial subject such as 5G.

5. Building 5G infrastructure is expensive, and that will make upgrades expensive for a while.

It’s not cheap to build the massive base station and repeater network that will be necessary for consistent 5G coverage. That high cost will likely result in higher prices for consumers and businesses to upgrade their technology for 5G compatibility. And in a bizarre twist, the conspiracy theorists convinced that 5G causes coronavirus have recently burned down several 5G base stations in Europe, which will likely raise the security costs of building further 5G network capacity.

On some level, this isn’t unexpected. New technologies are almost always more expensive. But with the U.S. economy seemingly headed for a coronavirus-induced recession, it’s an open question how much immediate consumer demand is likely to exist for a pricey new technology.

6. Security threats must be addressed.

 Robust data security becomes more critical every day, and 5G networks will likely still present significant security vulnerabilities in the coming years. 5G has some uniquely high-stakes uses (such as autonomous vehicles) that will make it more critical than usual to protect the security and integrity of networks.

Many of these threats can’t even be fully identified yet because 5G technology isn’t yet widespread among consumers and businesses. Network engineers need the chance to observe how the many complex systems that will use 5G technology will interact (and which security vulnerabilities end users are likely to leave open) before they can conduct a real and comprehensive audit of 5G security best practices.

7. Consumers may confuse 5GHz Wi-Fi and cellular 5G technology.

The two technologies with 5G in their names—5GHz Wi-Fi and cellular 5G—are remarkably similar in some ways, but different where it matters most. Both are telecommunications data technologies that offer much higher speeds with a trade-off in transmission distance. Despite that similarity, the two technologies are completely mutually incompatible.

Since 5GHz Wi-Fi has already been out for several years, you’ll still see it occasionally referred to as “5G Wi-Fi.” Confusion between these two similar but incompatible concepts may cause significant consumer frustration, especially before cellular 5G achieves ubiquity. Businesses should be careful to ensure that their customers thoroughly understand the difference between the two.

5G has the power to be another game-changing technology. Hopefully, it will be only a matter of time before the many bright minds of the tech industry devise a solution to the challenges we’ve talked about here. But as of now, the innovations of 5G seem like they may be delayed as technical obstacles continue to be ironed out.