The path towards 5G

From 3G to 4G in just a few years, is 5G the next step?

The path towards 5G - MF Communications

Image credit: Karlis Dambrans/Flickr

As we approach 2020, it’s likely there will be more than 50 billion connected devices worldwide, from home appliances to cars. The Internet of Things will no longer be something we merely think about and the 5G network will do everything better than 4G, including high resolution video streaming.

Using a mobile data network for handheld devices to make calls, use the internet, watch videos and access social media consumes a large amount of bandwidth. Telecoms companies across the world are starting to talk about upgrading to the latest generation of mobile data to help speed things up.

5G will include extra capabilities to ensure customer information is protected and devices are harder to hack and one major target for 5G networks is longer battery life. The aim is for handsets, phablets, tablets and other devices to have five times the battery life of existing 4G devices.

A key requirement for 5G is superior connection speeds

Currently, three factors affect 5G connection speeds: how fast a device is moving; distance from the base station; and number of devices in the same cell.

Another key requirement in order to reduce some of the congestion in busy areas is the introduction of seamless handover to Wi-Fi. This means handsets will automatically shift from using 5G to Wi-Fi when the handset is in range of a Wi-Fi access point.

However, it’s unlikely we’ll see 5G networks before the end of this decade. In the mean time we can expect telcos to start rolling out some of the technologies being developed for 5G in their existing networks.

Next steps towards 5G

Upgraded 4G
In Australia, mobile company Telstra has adopted the term “4GX” to describe the most recent upgrade to its mobile network, available on some of the latest handsets.

4GX gives faster speeds and improved coverage, both in-building and in regional areas. This is thanks to the inclusion of spectrum sharing, which better utilises Telstra’s 1,800MHz and 700MHz spectrum bands.

Mobile use is changing thanks to a new way of making calls. It’s called VoLTE (voice over LTE) and promises faster connections, clearer audio and better service.

Sending voice calls over high speed data networks

VoLTE involves sending calls over high-speed data networks, rather than through a dedicated voice channel and will replace the existing 3G technology used for voice calls over the cellular network.

First to launch was Metro PCS in 2012, followed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile in early 2014. Apple joined the move when it announced its new iPhone 6 models would make VoLTE calls. Optus, Vodafone and Telstra have completed VoLTE trials in Australia.

Many carrier networks are based on CDMA (Code-division Multiple Access) technology, where several transmitters can simultaneously send information over a single channel. However, these can’t handle voice and data transmissions over one wireless radio. This is why you can’t, for example, surf the Web whilst making a phone call when you are away from a Wi-Fi hotspot, unless you have a smartphone that has an extra radio in it, which comes at the expense of battery life.

Improved sound quality for voice calls

VoLTE treats voice like data, allowing it to transmit both at the same time without the need for an extra radio. Subscribers of VoLTE should notice calls have improved sound quality, as each of the big three carriers offering VoLTE are using it to roll out HD Voice, a standard for higher-quality audio calls.

With VoLTE, the data network should be much faster than the old voice one and calls should connect much quicker. The technology gives the carriers more capacity, in order to allow for streaming video, song downloads and other services.

Another advantage is consumers don’t have to worry about using up their data allowance, even though VoLTE routes calls over the data network. For now, at least, the carriers are treating VoLTE calls like traditional ones, with unlimited calling options being offered in subscription packages.

Prioritising voice calls over other data traffic

The carriers are also prioritising VoLTE calls over other data traffic to ensure consumers get consistent sound quality, even when their voice calls will be mixing with other data traffic.

Customers will benefit when VoLTE is introduced because the 3G channels used for voice calls will eventually be reallocated to provide increased bandwidth for data, but it will be a while before many consumers are able to use the new calling service. Even if your carrier supports VoLTE in your area, you’ll only be able to access the service if you have one of a handful of new phones.

Another problem is roaming from a tower that supports VoLTE to one that doesn’t. This will cause your call to drop. Both caller and recipient need to have VoLTE-capable phones connected to VoLTE-capable towers on the same network and the moment and it’s not possible to make HD calls from one carrier to another.

Business mobile solutions from MF Communications

MF Communications has a dedicated team of business telecoms solutions specialists, including business mobile telecommunications experts. Not only can we offer you the best deals by having no fixed deals or contractual obligations, we can manage all your business telecommunications services and save you money and time by providing you with one easy-to-read bill simple and one point of contact.

Please email us for further information. Or to discuss your business mobile solutions needs with one of our UK business managers, call now on 01892 514687.