As the future of 5G gets closer and closer to becoming a reality, we’re standing at the precipice of entering the next technological revolution just over a decade after the last one. And while downloading HD movies in a fraction of the time it currently takes is an exciting key feature, the predicted societal transformation we’re about to embark on is expected to go well beyond faster Internet.
How many phone numbers do you know by heart? For some, it’s hard to imagine that we used to know the numbers of everyone we called regularly. For others, the idea of using phones for anything but calling people is shocking.
We Live in Our Phones
Today, the iPhone—and its Android counterparts—have revolutionized how we live, think and communicate. Not only do we use our smartphones to manage nearly every aspect of our lives, but they are even being used to save lives by detecting health concerns, such as an irregular heartbeat. It’s no wonder we’re glued to them as if they are an appendage to our bodies considering just how much we depend on them. There is growing awareness and concern that we are too dependent and addicted to our phones. We even use our phones to tell us how much we’re using them and place restrictions on how much time we spend in certain addicting apps, especially those with the time-sucking infinite scroll.
However, 5G has the potential to change this phone and unlatch us from our screens by integrating more natural interactions to technology. We’re already starting to see some of the potential benefits of a 5G world with more voice and gesture commands—like Alexa, Google Home, and Siri—built into our devices. But in order to successfully create a completely seamless and invisible network that wirelessly connects all devices and interactions with those devices, data will need to be transferred, stored, and processed at rapid speeds that are not just fast but also consistent and highly reliable.
What Is 5G?
5G is the next evolution or “generation” of wireless mobile network after 4G LTE. It’s expected that 5G will become commercially available in 2020, although it will most likely take several years until we start to see the full spectrum of 5G services being offered nationwide.
5G’s Effects on Data Center Infrastructure
So how will 5G affect the infrastructure needed to make these technological advancements a reality? Connections are defined by the capacity, or bandwidth, of how much information & data can travel at nearly the speed of light via fiber. With more than 75 billion devices predicted to be connected to the Internet by 2025, significantly more data will be created, which means we need significantly more capacity to transmit that data reliably and consistently. And when it comes to 5G applications, consistency and reliability are just as important as speed.
If you asked how long it would take me to deliver 50 gallons of water to you, I would need to think about: how far away I am from the water source? how wide is the hose? how much consistent pressure is being applied to pump out the water? That’s how we have to think about some of the ways current and future network infrastructure will evolve to support 5G advancements. – Rick Moore, Cloud Services Director
Life or Death: Importance of Speed and Consistency
Imagine a surgeon being able to perform surgery remotely via robotic arms. Network speed is necessary to ensure every move the surgeon makes is being performed in real-time. But perhaps even more important than speed in this scenario is the elimination of jitter, which could represent the thin line between life and death.
How to Eliminate ‘Jitter’
The same line of thinking can be applied to any number of scenarios like autonomous vehicles or, say, a firefighter being able to fight fires remotely. Hitting the brakes too late or experiencing a delay in the delivery of critical water supply will impart more significant results than waiting for a movie to buffer on your smartphone. Therefore, certain data will need to live on a dedicated network away from congestion from other applications. While entertainment streaming companies can’t afford to compromise user experience, trust and loyalty with inconsistent and slow network speed, regulations will need to be implemented that place higher importance on applications that affect one’s health and/or safety.
5G at the Edge
Edge computing also plays an important role in 5G. Logically, the closer data is to where it is being processed, the faster transmitting and computing that data will be. We're already starting to see more emphasis on localized, distributed computing power to support mission-critical applications with lower latency and higher resiliency. However, there will always be a need for a centralized core as the beating heart to any IT environment. After all, even the most advanced micro data centers will not be capable of handling all tasks exclusively at the edge. And with the advancements we’ll see from 5G over the next few years, network architectures will become faster and more robust, effectively bringing the edge to the core and ultimately dampening the need for powerful edge computing.
The Future of 5G
While we know that 5G will become the invisible fabric that wirelessly connects all devices and applications one day, it’s hard to predict exactly what a 5G future will look like. But what is certain is that the amount of data that will be created is going to increase significantly over the coming years and therefore more capacity with reliable, consistent, and near-instantaneous speed will be needed to power a 5G future.