4G to 5G – the transition

Staying consistent with the way mobile networks have evolved, the world is readying itself for the 5th Generation, or 5G for short, of mobile data networks. For us in India, it has not been too many years since 4G was introduced and thankfully (for the service providers), the 5G specification is not yet completely in the books. So, we will have 4G speeds for a long time to come still. It is likely to be sometime in the 2020s, that we will see 5G speeds, which promise to be in the 10 Gbps speed of download range. Expect to see a lot of buzz around 5G in the upcoming annual Mobile World Congress where at least a few vendors will show-off their first 5G enabled handsets and almost everyone will be talking about how ready they are, for 5G. But are the Service Providers ready?

eNodeB upgrades

5G proposes a completely revamped signaling from 4G. So, everything needs to change, starting from the mobile phones (which will need to start supporting the signaling for 5G), to the cell towers, called eNodeBs in the 4G/ LTE world. As a first step, the SPs will have to upgrade these super important components in the mobile technology space from the current version of eNodeBs to gNodeBs. Companies like Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, etc. are eagerly looking forward to this transition. They stand to gain when the transition begins. Expect to see a lot of these end-node upgrades to support the 5G frequencies while the backend network or the Packet core network still operates at 4G speeds.

Signaling nodes overhaul

4G networks relied on the various nodes such as MME, HSS, PCRF, SGW and PGW for Authentication, Policing, Authorization, Charging and Anchoring the data signals from the User Equipment, before the data packets could eventually reach the Internet. 5G changes everything once again. The interface names are changed, the way roaming is handled will change and the nodes will change into Functions. Of course, various functions can co-exist in a single physical node, but their descriptions and the method in which the signaling will be handled are different. All of this will call for huge investments. Are SPs ready to invest right away? Business strategies will play a big role in these rollouts, like always. You can bet on another Jio like player stepping in to change the game some time in the future. Who knows, it may be Reliance again with their deep pockets that will be disruptive.

Packet core Gateway upgrades

Ultimately, speed wins. For supporting the speeds being touted, the packet core and the Internet itself, will need much higher throughput to be supported. 100G interface switches and routers are available today. 1Tbps ports will be the norm in a few years from now. Spending on those upgrades is not inexpensive either – Internet of Things and a truly connected world will mean that every possible entity will be chatty, communicating with each other, or with the cloud. 5G does make provisions for short duration communications and with an every changing landscape of data networks, we are looking at a very different world, gazing into the crystal ball for the 2020s.

For me, there is one question that remains – how much longer before the physicists, scientists and mathematicians of the world figure out a way of communicating at the speed of light in a wireless medium (through the air), with no loss of data? Will that be 10G? What do you think?

Residing in Bengaluru, I am a Techie by profession and a thinker and doer by birth. I muse about any topic under the sun and love to share my thoughts in print when I am not doing something with them. I love reading and at some point, thought that maybe others would like to read what I have to write, too!

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