The fifth generation of mobile telephony represents a profound change in the structure of the entire telecommunications network. For the first time, the ability to manage data and the intelligence to process it will no longer be entirely located in one remote centralised place (the so-called cloud) and will move closer to where it is needed. This new architecture will allow smart nearby connectivity, which is a decisive boost for a true digital society.
5G means a significant decentralising of processes and will herald an unprecedented degree of flexibility and capillarity in the system. This is the only way in which response times, or latency, can be reduced to a minimum and will usher in the great revolution of permanent interconnection between devices and between machines (the Internet of things). This future opens up infinite possibilities in terms of automating industrial processes, configuring new smart cities and creating mobility through connected and autonomous vehicles. In addition, it will provide an extremely fast user experience when downloading and interacting with all kinds of content, including video games.
For information to be managed right where it is needed, a key element in the decentralised 5G architecture is Edge Computing. This involves having the resources (storage, databases, and information processing) close to the people who will need them. These new smart nodes will be housed in small boxes that will go completely unnoticed in the city landscape.
5G is based on a communicative ecosystem that includes the use of radio waves through a wider and more flexible frequency range, with a combination of large antennas in high places and a network of micro-antennas distributed and camouflaged in urban fixtures. Data transport and capture requires the antennas to be connected in a capillary way with optical fibre using Fibre to the Antenna (FTTA) technology. Finally, the network is completed with medium-sized data centres, also known as Central Offices, distributed throughout the cities and their areas of influence.
Coverage divided into much smaller areas
5G technology increases the capacity of the network by dividing the coverage into much smaller areas, with a very low-power antenna in each area. Each antenna provides service to an extremely small number of users, giving each one a very high data rate (fewer users sharing), with very low power (equivalent to speaking quietly) and minimises interference with other nearby areas.
Densifying communication networks using 5G affords users the possibility to access content, applications, and value-added services at ultra-high speed and with very little latency (estimates suggest that user patience has fallen to just a few seconds). Applications such as those related to the consumption of goods and services, leisure, tourism, and dealings between the public and their administration will improve significantly. There will be new ways of managing security and responding to emergencies; autonomous vehicles to meet mobility demands; new shopping experiences, and immersive views that will transform knowledge of the city.
Permanent connectivity requires an enormous roll-out to meet demand for coverage, especially in places where there is high footfall, such as shopping centres, stadiums, or public transport networks. This need, together with the new mesh and fabric of micro antennas and fibre, boosts the possibility for a neutral operator to provide the infrastructure and network service to conventional operators.
Above all, 5G is a technology designed to solve real problems. For example, enabling city waste skips to differentiate between several types of plastics or glass containers for proper storage, and also associating them with the person dropping them off, using automatic identification. It can also facilitate smart agriculture by allowing autonomous machines to recognise the size, appearance and ripeness of fruit, which it can then harvest with little supervision. This advance allows farmers to have more productive farms and leads to great benefits for the surroundings and for the environment.
Innovation Project Manager at Cellnex