Smartantennae. Technologies like massive multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) and beam-forming active antennae will be at the heart of 5G. Smartantennae will help alter beam direction, enabling more direct communication. This would increase overall cell capacity, reduce interference and compensate for path loss with higher antenna gains. Such adaptive beam-forming algorithms are likely to be implemented on all user devices.
Versatile and responsible terminals. 5G, being a user-centric rather than operator-centric network, will shift the onus to the terminals to provide the best experience. 5G terminals are likely to have modulation schemes, error-control schemes and software-defined radios that can be downloaded from the Internet. These terminals will be able to access, choose and combine different wireless technologies and services from different mobile/wireless access network providers.
Apart from these, research is also on to reduce battery consumption of network devices (increasing their life on the scale of months or years, rather than days or weeks), optimising deployment and operating costs, and so on.
User-centric business models
Given that 5G is disruptively different from its predecessors, many new and user-centric business models are expected to arise out of it.
User can give and take. A recent report by The Telegraph, the UK, predicts that by 2020, each person will have an average of 27 devices. These devices might be in their cars, homes, offices or bags. But just imagine having to pay for the data transacted wirelessly by all these devices? Fortunately, this scenario of service providers and users playing a clear supply and consumption role is likely to change. Like in the case of a smart power grid, where users can sell excess energy from alternative sources to the power utility, 5G—likely to be the grandfather of all networks—will allow users to make money by charging others for the coverage they provide with Wi-Fi routers or femto-cell home base stations.
No more tech pushing. The user is expected to shape the very fundamentals of the 5G business. Rather than being just another telecom generation, where operators push a new technology to users, it is believed that 5G will be a network that evolves to meet the demands of users from totally new markets.
Linda K. Moore, a specialist in telecommunications policy at the Congressional Research Service, writes in a recent report that, 5G might be shaped not by carriers pushing new technology but by demand from new customers, customers that are the mainstay of important industrial sectors other than telecommunications. These include transportation, agriculture, energy, mining, defence and public safety, entertainment, medicine and finance, to cite some examples where new technologies are influencing whole industries. These industries might prefer not to manage important parts of their businesses based on somebody else’s business model and may demand new techniques and service providers.
Information reselling. Since much more data is going to be generated by all our devices and apps in the 5G era, a whole industry is going to revolve around managing, mining and monetising this Big Data, albeit with privacy regulations in place.
User focus being a rather new paradigm in telecom networks, several consortiums are being formed around the world to understand the true 5G and the business models it is likely to give birth to.
What would you do with a mountain of money? Well, that is how you would feel when granted a seemingly unlimited data rate network connection, right? Add to this the fact that 5G is expected to have an extremely low latency, which means you would get responses instantaneously with delays imperceptible to the human brain. Naturally, apps would evolve amazingly.
Videos would be captured and transmitted on-the-go. Movies would be downloaded in seconds. You would be able to watch all your favourite television programmes on the phone itself. Social media would morph into a more exciting avatar, and so on. In a 2014 story by The Telegraph, the UK, experts predict that videos will represent 79 per cent of the data passing over the network by 2030. Standard-definition videos will disappear, and high-definition will become the norm, as 4K and 8K videos become more widespread. The download speed for a video stream is going to reach about 18Mbps, while the upload speed will also become increasingly important due to the popularity of apps like Instagram and iCloud. Sixty eight per cent of non-video demand will be made up by either augmented reality or mobile gaming.
That said, the real impact of 5G might be felt not just in entertainment and social apps, but also in businesses and other sectors like healthcare and automotive. Road-safety apps, for example, would become highly reliable as 5G would enable real-time, low-latency car-to-car communications. So, you would be getting instantaneous reports on the traffic situation and be alerted if a driver in front of you swerves suddenly.
Likewise, remote surgeries would improve with low-latency networks like 5G, because the doctor’s reactions to the patient’s condition would be captured immediately, just like in a real surgery.
The phone in your pocket
If the network is going to change, and also the apps, then the phone has to, obviously, change.
Wow, what clarity. If you are going to thrive on videos, surely you would need a better display on your mobile device. Several innovations, which seem cutting-edge today, such as automatic brightness adjustment, extremely high resolutions, smooth transition from one environment to another and correction of defective vision, could become mainstream in the phones of 2020.
Capture it live. Problems like slow zoom-in, late focus and bad image quality in poor lighting conditions will not be acceptable to next-gen users. Going by the research happening around the world, we are likely to get smartphone cameras that will behave almost like our eyes, capable of focusing in real-time, tracking objects and automatically adjusting to the environmental lighting.
Less charging, more working. As mobile devices become such an integral part of our lives, we need to start worrying about not just data costs, but also power. Fortunately, researchers are working on super battery technologies, which will enable devices to work for longer with shorter charges. A team at Stanford University announced last year that they had designed a way of increasing the capacity of existing battery technology by 400 per cent.
Likewise, battery packs and power bank companies are innovating to provide a full charge to batteries within a few minutes, rather than taking almost an hour. If the trend continues, we should be able to run the dream phone of 2020 for a week or more with a few minutes’ charge.
Supercomputing phones. Good network, great camera, super display—nothing would help if the processor is not up to it. I guess we need not worry on that front, with the low-power processor industry heating up with competition. If AT&T’s 2012 report is to be believed, we are sure to have a supercomputing phone in our hands by 2020!
So, whether South Korea wins the race by trialling 5G at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games or Japan keeps its promise of launching a 5G trial network for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo, one thing is for sure—there is a lot of excitement in store for us in the days to come.