This is only a glimpse of what life with 5G could look like. More significant than its increased speed, 5G provides new radio technologies for low-cost, long‑life battery-powered sensors. These sensors will massively increase the number of devices that could simultaneously connect to the network and provide extremely low latency, resulting in hardly any delay for users.
“Because of cost or availability of service, many people in dense urban and rural areas only access the internet via their mobile device,” says Matt Olson, projects director in the Networks, Integration & Automation department at Burns & McDonnell. “The deployment of 5G will provide all users with connections as fast as wired, and in more places than we could take the wired network, at the same cost of their mobile service today.”
Going the Distance
Significant planning is underway to develop the 5G infrastructure and hardware needed to unlock more mobile bandwidth and push data facilities to take on higher volumes of data.
5G will be the first mobile network to tap into the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum providing high‑precision and low latency. It will be game‑changing for both those using the data and those providing it. Because these high frequencies require a pure line of sight between the antenna and the device to be effective, antennas need to be strategically placed, such as high on utility poles.
“We’re still going to have a need for massive data centers that aren’t so time-sensitive, but we’re also going to see new types of data centers that are much closer to the user through edge computing,” says Robert Bonar, a regional practice manager at Burns & McDonnell who specializes in managing data center design and construction.
Today, networks are supported by large hyperscale data centers with thousands of server racks. Moving forward, a data hub the size of a backpack could cache Netflix shows, and a shipping container‑sized facility hosting 15 server racks might provide signals to trash receptacle sensors to inform a city’s waste collection plan.
Where the infrastructure to support mmWave is not feasible because of obstructions like trees or buildings, 5G will rely on both low- and mid-band spectrum. Low-band spectrum allows signals to travel farther without line-of-sight issues and enables the use of sensor devices. With the right infrastructure in place, 5G networks will understand the type of data being requested and will switch to different modes to support devices.
As major communications carriers and utilities begin to deploy 5G, the key to maintenance and sustainability will be to remain adaptable and responsive as users discover how 5G can improve their lives. Collaboration is required among the major players for 5G deployment. As utilities work to strengthen their resilience against outages — through an investment in batteries, for example — utilities and communication companies could consider options to place batteries at cell towers to benefit both the power and communications networks.
5G is about meeting the demands of users, wherever they are and with quality data that suits their needs.
“It’s usually a missing link — like 5G, in this case — that enables people to do things they never could have dreamed of doing before,” Bonar says.