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Why is super-fast 5G so super-slow to be rolled out?

5G — the new and much-anticipated cellular broadband network standard, is on everyone’s minds. There have been countless news stories and feature articles about 5G, the technology behind it, the features it packs in, and the companies making 5G-ready devices. The estimated speed and bandwidth of the upcoming 5G network are expected to be almost 100 times faster than that of the current 4G network. It is also predicted that the 5G network might even replace the traditional home Internet connections that run on WiFi. But why is this super-fast 5G cellular mobile communication network not rolling out quickly? Well, there are certain challenges in bringing such technology out on a wide scale. There are several challenges in terms of hardware capabilities, making the compatible devices that need regulatory approvals, setting up network distribution centers, towers, and more.

Here are some of the biggest challenges that are road blocking the rollout of the 5G network.

Frequency bands

Current LTE network bands operate with over 50 different frequency bands, all of which are well under 3.6GHz. However, the upcoming 5G network will need a sub-6GHz frequency range. The first generation of 5G networks is expected to use millimeter waves that operate between 600MHz and 3.5GHz-6GHz. mmWaves can also deliver exceptional data transfer capacities and can deliver up to a 20-fold increase over the current LTE’s throughput — at least theoretically.

While the 5G frequencies and radio waves used are known to carry a lot of data in them, they are known to be limited in range. Moreover, data transferred through these waves used in different 5G bands are known to be easily blocked or hindered by obstacles such as walls, trees, and buildings. The research has reached its final phases in utilizing these frequencies and waves efficiently for better speeds.

Wireless carriers are still in the process of acquiring these higher spectrum frequency bands to build and roll out their respective 5G networks.

MIMO technology

MIMO (multiple inputs multiple outputs) is an antenna technology for wireless communication in which multiple antennas are used at both ends of the communication. Currently, massive MIMO technologies are the most compelling physical layer technology for wireless communication. 5G largely depends on MIMO technology for high-speed Internet and spectral efficiency. The concept is to arrange large antennas in arrays at base stations and terminals to maximize the data transfer rates by sending and receiving the data simultaneously.

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Although MIMO technology has been in existence for a while, it was never used in such a wide-scale adaption as that needed for 5G. MIMO technology not only requires complex algorithms to enable dual-channeled data transmission but also needs efficient hardware and equipment for its functioning.

5G deployment and coverage

As mentioned earlier, 5G uses millimeter waves for its propagation. While these waves can carry huge amounts of data, they have a very short range making it unsuitable for mobile networks. These mmWaves will need further infrastructure more advanced than the current infrastructure for achieving the required range.

Moreover, these higher frequencies tend to be spread out enabling high directional radio waves. These frequencies need to be targeted or redirected to the targets, which itself is another roadblock to 5G networks. This process of targeting radio waves is known as beamforming. The major challenge with beamforming is that although these antennas manage to handle multiple users and data, they do not achieve a long-range.

More antennas and network equipment are needed for 5G propagation. More of them would most likely need to be installed in localities such as on rooftops, parks, commercial buildings, and more for an uninterrupted connection. The network provides would also need to set up extra repeaters in the cities to spread out the waves for better range.

Costs of 5G

Since 5G is a shift from the existing network technologies, the cost to build these networks is high. Carrier providers are already spending trillions on acquiring and building these 5G networks for large-scale usage. In the U.S., bidding for just the 28GHz spectrum alone went as high as $690 million. More information about it can be found here.

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These are just the costs to acquire a frequency range for 5G network propagation. Major costs are also involved in setting up MIMO technology, network repeaters, beamforming equipment and technology, and devices capable of handling 5G. The costs incurred in the process are to be paid by customers, which in turn is going to be much higher when compared to the existing 4G LTE technology. Therefore, companies have to come up with cost-effective business proposals to make 5G viable.

Security and privacy

Security is one major deciding factor that makes or breaks the deal in almost every domain. When it comes to wireless network transmissions, security has always been a major drawback. Therefore, 5G network providers need to make sure that this upcoming wireless broadband ensures the safety and privacy of its users. Since the implementation is going to be widespread across the globe, testing it in terms of security and privacy is a challenging task.

While 5G offers a major upgrade in speed and features compared to existing networks, it is also proving to be a very complex challenge to roll out.

Sukesh Mudrakola

Sukesh is a Technology Consultant by profession and an IT enterprise and tech enthusiast by passion. He holds a Masters degree in Software Engineering and has filled in various roles such as Developer, Analyst, and Consultant in his professional career. He holds an expertise in mobile and wearable technologies and is a Certified Scrum Master.

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Sukesh Mudrakola

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