As the Internet of Things ushers in a new era of connectivity, service providers have found themselves in a race to bolster their existing infrastructure in order to meet the growing demands of bandwidth-hungry end users and their connected devices. At the same time however, the mobile nature of IoT-enabled devices means that fiber, which has long been viewed as the foundation of modern high-capacity networks, is often no longer an option for introducing the necessary high bandwidth and lower latency to these networks. So how will wireless network technologies need to evolve in order to meet these needs?
The recent meetings held by Congress on the state of wireless infrastructure in the country underpin the widely understood need to bolster both the size and strength of these networks. There is an insatiable demand for mobile data today, and even now, major carriers are attempting to offload subsidiary data from 4G LTE to lower-tier spectrums in an effort to prioritize the valuable space available in these networks. With current levels of data already creating such a strain, it's clear that today's networks are ill-prepared to accommodate the additional load created by tens of billions of new devices over the next few years.
Even as 4G is being rolled out to more and more markets, the wireless industry is already looking to the simultaneous high-bandwidth and low-latency promised by fifth-generation network technologies in order to support a true Internet of Things ecosystem. While speculations over the exact capabilities of 5G have varied, the 5G Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership (5GPPP), a governing body responsible for determining these standards, recently identified several key requirements for the newest iteration of wireless networks. These include:
• Handling traffic from more than one hundred billion devices – meeting this standard will require today's networks to increase their capacity by several thousand times their current limit.
• Providing peak end-user data rates of at least 10Gbps, with generally available end-use rates of at least 100Mbps – providing even a standard 100 megabits to mobile devices or those in coverage-poor areas will require entirely new levels of network capacity and robustness.
• Achieving a minimum end-to-end latency of five milliseconds, with one millisecond of latency when necessary – a number of small cells will need to be introduced at communication end-points, which in turn will require significant reductions in network latency.
Current wireless technologies cannot meet these standards, but recent advancements in radio transmission technologies have taken a big step in the right direction. As an example, earlier this year Nokia Networks demonstrated a prototype Millimeter Wave system capable of transmitting 10Gbps over 200 meters. In this particular instance, Nokia has applied short-range Millimeter Wave technologies to a point-to-multipoint, small radius application, essentially demonstrating a high-capacity replacement for Wi-Fi.
At the same time, there are also applications for Millimeter Wave and Microwave in longer distance point-to-point applications, which can be used to create more advanced solutions for reliable, high-capacity and low latency carrier-grade connectivity. With the growing need for wireless alternatives for data transport to support networks, carriers are pushing technology providers to develop new products that can deliver the necessary carrier-grade availability, capacity and latency without the problematic interference caused by inclement weather that effects many of today's wireless solutions.
Service providers are already running out of capacity to handle the massive amounts of mobile data travelling across today's networks. As even greater numbers of mobile and connected devices come online in the coming years, new 5G networks will be needed in order to make the Internet of Things a practical reality. To do that, companies today must look at new ways of building out existing networks that enable the process of introducing greater bandwidth and lower latency. Creating the new network requirements to support the Internet of Things won't be accomplished overnight; it's going to require a gradual development. However, if we start laying the building blocks now for the future of fifth-generation wireless networks, as a wireless industry we can ensure that we reach that point much faster.