Community Blog 5G Is Coming - A Brief Introduction to 5G Mobile Networks

5G Is Coming - A Brief Introduction to 5G Mobile Networks

This article discusses 5G mobile network technology and its working principles, advantages, and challenges.

By Alex Muchiri, an Alibaba Cloud MVP. He is the founder of Itesyl Technologies, a financial data and business banking solutions company.

It is all over the news, 5G is coming! In fact, there is so much excitement you could be wondering, why is it such a big deal? We have been through 2G, 3G, and 4G, and this could be just another one of those small incremental technologies. Actually, 5G is almost a quantum leap in communications with expected speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G. What you could accomplish with such speeds and expected connection quality is mind-blowing. For mobile connectivity, it will be significant to content streaming, video calls, online entertainment, and of course, access to information.

What Is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile network connectivity poised to ensure fast, reliable networks. It is widely believed as the missing link for the development of highly advanced networked systems such as IoT, self-driving cars, robotics, telemedicine, virtual reality. With more capacity in the networks, applications can run simultaneously without impacting other users' speeds.

With every new generation of wireless networks, there has been a new encoding method. Newer methods mean faster speeds but also mean that they're incompatible with the older generations. G was the first standard and was basically behind the analog phones. 2G brought about digital cell phones and included CDMA, GSM and TDMA. EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS brought forth 3G and the speeds increased to hundreds of kilobytes to a few MBPS or less. 4G speeds increased to several MBs per second with the highest speed recorded being nearly a gigabit per second. 5G promises even higher speeds, low latency, and more bandwidth to enable more devices to connect to the internet. While 4G speeds can be improved to hit nearly 2 GBPS, 5G offers more capacity and less latency beyond anything that 4G networks could attain.

At first, 5G will work in tandem with the existing 4G infrastructure. The transition will be gradual beginning with the upgrade of base stations followed by the installation of many small antennas. In due time, 5G will be widely accessible with 4G only required where it has not reached.

Working Principles of 5G

As with all the previous generations of mobile networks, 5G relies on radio waves. However, the encoding used will see the average network speeds stabilize at about 1 GBPS with some estimates predicting up to 10 GBPS. The high speeds will lead to faster content downloading, almost as good as using an optic fiber connection on the move. Furthermore, the low latency will speed up internet access and reduce lag in bandwidth-intensive activities such as video conferencing or video games.

5G was designed to meet the requirements of diverse users in a single network. Specifically, the Cloud-Native E2E architecture should meet the standards below:

  • Support applications need a single network infrastructure through network slicing that is logically independent.
  • Enable multiple devices implementing different standards to connect by reconstructing radio access networks (RAN) on demand.
  • Create a simplified architecture by separating the user from control planes, modular functions, and integrated database management.
  • Reduce operation costs by automatic network slicing, maintenance, and service termination.

5G transmits via comparatively shorter wavelengths and is thus, sensitive to barriers and environmental conditions. With more transmission hardware installed, this problem could become minimal. 5G networks work primarily on three different frequencies:

  • Low-frequency
  • Mid-band frequency
  • Higher frequency

Lower frequency 5G uses similar frequency bands as existing technologies and achieves between 25-50 times increase in speed. It is best for sparsely populated rural areas, as it has similar reach to existing 4G, and hence, a similar number of cell sites.

For extremely fast gigabit speeds, millimeter wavelengths in the range of 28 GHz and 39 GHz are used. These types will require a dense network of cell sites since their penetration is low.

The mid-band range is a sort of compromise between the two, with frequencies ranging from 3.5 GHz to 7 GHz. The speeds are not as high as with the high-frequency networks, and the cell sites will be fewer as well.

Uses of 5G

Before looking at the uses of 5G, let's look at the classification of the 5G mobile networks as defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). There are three categories:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)
  • Ultra-reliable and Low-latency Communications (uRLLC)
  • Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).

eMBB aims at meeting the demanding digital lifestyle of people by increasing the bandwidth to accommodate tasks such as virtual reality, HD content streaming, and augmented reality applications.

uRLLC focuses on latency-sensitive industrial applications such as telemedicine, self-driving mobility, and critical networked machine-based automated response, among others.

mMTC focuses on providing higher network density for smart cities that require higher throughput capacity, such as large-scale IoT projects.

Of course, most cell network providers want to provide a better experience through faster connections on smartphones. 5G offers a tremendous advantage over 4G, since it has more capacity, hence, cheaper home internet plans.

There will be a substantial change concerning the future of supply lines with a 5G future. Anticipation is that complex, bandwidth-intensive applications, such as cloud-based traffic control and remote driving, will become feasible with low latency.


In this article, we covered what is 5G mobile network technology and its working principles along with the advantages and the challenges of implementing the technology successfully.

If you want to learn more about Alibaba Cloud's networking capabilities, I encourage you to visit the Networking Solution page.

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