Sep 06 2019

5G vs. 4G Cellular Technology: What Businesses Need to Know

Ultra-fast 5G is coming soon, but how will it affect networking for businesses?

5G networks are rolling out worldwide. Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile and Sprint are among the leading 5G internet service providers.

Mobile and fixed 5G services are still limited in geographic reach, but ISPs are swiftly moving forward with expansion plans. In 2020, worldwide 5G wireless network infrastructure revenue will reach $4.2 billion, an 89 percent increase from 2019 revenue of $2.2 billion, according to Gartner.

“In the long term, 5G will impact all businesses, and it’s important to be at the forefront of using 5G,” says Emanuel Kolta, senior analyst at ABI Research. “Companies that gain experience with 5G before their competitors do will have a huge advantage.”

What Is a 5G Network? Introducing New Radio

5G is the fifth-generation mobile technology. The 5G NR — New Radio — is the new global standard adopted by the Third Generation Partnership Project, better known as 3GPP, the standards organization for a unified and more capable 5G wireless air interface. 5G supports diverse radio frequency spectrum bands with very high available bandwidth. The 5G Core is the center of the network and the anchor point for multi-access technologies. 


Non-Standalone 5G NR vs. Standalone 5G NR: What’s the Difference?

There are two types of 5G NR. Non-standalone 5G NR leverages existing 4G deployments and requires only minor modifications to the 4G network. The focus is primarily on enhanced mobile broadband: ISPs use this to provide high-speed connectivity to users with 5G-enabled devices.

The other type is standalone 5G NR, which has defined three use cases, according to 3GGP. They include enhanced mobile broadband but also extend to ultrareliable and low-latency communications for critical applications, and massive machine-type communications to support the Internet of Things

Standalone 5G NR requires a new end-to-end architecture that is defined by capabilities including network slicing, which logically sectorizes a network so that separate services with different requirements that need to exist simultaneously are supported by each separate logical network. Network slicing builds on software-defined networking and network functions virtualization to make networks flexible and adaptive to meet the needs of businesses.

“5G NR networks can serve different sets of customers with different connectivity requirements,” says Ignacio Contreras, Qualcomm’s director of 5G marketing.

One network slice can be used to connect IoT devices that require high availability and high reliability data-only service, for instance, while another can satisfy a use case that calls for very high throughput, high data speeds and low latency. That might be an augmented reality maintenance service in manufacturing that lets workers see a machine’s status through an AR display, for instance. 

“Enterprises will need to upgrade their devices and processes to enjoy the benefits of 5G,” says Adlane Fellah, senior wireless analyst at Maravedis. ISPs are also partnering with companies that are building their own private 5G networks to keep their data from being compromised in the cloud. “Part of those private 5G networks will be managed by the operator and offered as a service to the enterprise,” he says.

VIDEO: Discover how IoT is changing how we use technology in the workplace.

5G vs. 4G: What’s the Speed Difference?

“5G is a transformational change from 4G,” says Heidi Hemmer, vice president of technology for Verizon. “5G will provide faster data speeds and carry a massive amount of data for a large number of simultaneous users.”

5G is reaching peak speeds of 1 gigabit per second to 10 Gbps, compared with 4G LTE’s peak of 300 megabits per second to 1Gbps. Average speeds for 5G are 50 Mbps and up versus 15 Mbps and up for 4G LTE, depending on device, location and motion status. 4G can support about 4,000 devices per square foot, whereas 5G will support around 1 million.

That speed and capacity is particularly important for IoT, says Kolta, where massive amounts of data from a dizzying number of devices and sensors must be collected, processed, transmitted and analyzed in real time.

5G vs. 4G: How Does Latency Differ?

5G is estimated to be 60 to 120 times faster than average 4G latencies. With 5G, latencies — the time it takes for data from a device to be uploaded and reach its target — could eventually be under 10 milliseconds. That’s many times faster than the blink of an eye, says Hemmer.

“Latency does not depend on the radio interface only; it also depends where in the 5G Core network the traffic must complete a roundtrip,” Fellah notes.

Low latency is critical for applications that require rapid responsiveness, such as remote vehicle control.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: What will 5G mean for small businesses?

5G vs. 4G: Does 5G Improve Security?

There’s no such thing as total network security. 4G addressed legacy network security problems, such as crypto and side-channel attacks, and service providers built additional security features upon that foundation. Still, security holes exist. In fact, researchers from Purdue University and the University of Iowa recently discovered security holes in 4G, including one that could lead to an authentication and synchronization failure attack.

Top security issues for 5G, as identified by RCR Wireless News, include the fact that as more network slices are created to support a variety of user equipment and requirements, the potential number of attack vectors will increase accordingly. And the sheer number of IoT sensors and other endpoints that 5G can accommodate provides a nearly limitless number of points through which a security attack can originate.

But Danny Tseng, a 5G/LTE technical marketing professional for Qualcomm, points out that a natural quarantine exists when a core network is sliced into different entities for different use cases. “So, in a way that’s more secure,” he says.

The 5G part of security is rock solid if one thinks of network security holistically, Tseng says. Many attacks actually can occur outside the connectivity level, such as on the applications side. “In the case of the enterprise looking into introducing new 5G services, they need to think about security as whole,” he says. “It’s a system approach, not just the 5G part of it.”

What Is the Near-Term Future of 5G?

“5G is coming fast,” says Contreras. Businesses should start to craft their 5G strategies, and that can include starting small. “That could be as simple as upgrading smartphones to 5G, just doing that for the next 30 or so months,” he says. If they’re replacing laptops businesses can consider whether they want to buy systems with 5G modems. 

5G implementations will grow from there. “The magic in 5G is that there is such a diverse demand for connectivity,” says Kolta.

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