What is 5G?

5G is coming in 2020! Great! But wait, what is 5G exactly?

According to Wikipedia,

5G (5th generation mobile networks or 5th generation wireless systems) denotes the proposed next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards beyond the current 4G/IMT-Advanced standards.

So basically, according to them, 5G is whatever comes after 4G. That’s great, yet not very helpful. But that’s probably the only safe assessement one can tell today about what exactly 5G is. This is because as of now, the development of the 5G standard is far from being finalized.

In December 2014 the GSMA has listed eight criteria for 5G. A network connection should meet a majority of the eight in order to qualify as 5G:

  • 1-10Gbps connections to end points in the field (i.e. not values measured in a lab)
  • 1 millisecond end-to-end round trip delay (latency)
  • 1000x bandwidth per unit area
  • 10-100x number of connected devices
  • (Perception of) 99.999% availability
  • (Perception of) 100% coverage
  • 90% reduction in network energy usage
  • Up to 10 year battery life for low power, machine-type devices

Looking at those technical goals, we can see 3 general objectives that 5G will address.

Why do we need 5G?


We need to allow a huge amount of simultaneous connections and a significant increase of speed and latency of each individual connections at the same time.

By 2020 you can expect to see Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality to be out there in every home and pockets. These applications will require significant uplink and downlink performances to sustain the real-time experience they need, to collect data from the device, analyze it in the cloud and send back the appropriate response, action, video stream that the user needs.

On the same network, a massive amount of smart devices will be connected in what we call the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Cisco, by 2020, there will be more than 25 billions of connected devices, while at the same time the number of connected users will be just above 4 billions.


Efficiency: a dramatic reduction of network energy usage and a significant improvement of battery life expecially for low-power devices.

The picture above is a joke, but it’s funny because it’s true: while our old brick-style Nokia 3310 could last more than a week without a charge, today’s smartphones barely make it through the day without being recharged.

The network connectivity is not the main offender in battery consumption, the screen probably is, but the increase of data throughout, the support of multiple frequency bands, the more frequent reselection between band drain the battery faster. Spend one day on WiFi versus one day on 4G with your phone to see the difference.

The IoT also needs low consumption to connect to 5G so that devices can be small enough to be embedded everywhere.


Perception of 100% coverage and availability, that we can be phrased as “Everything everywhere and¬†always connected”.

Allowing more and more frequency bands and technologies to not only co-exist (take WiFi and 4G for instance) but also converging to become interoperable so that there is always a way to be connected. The radio access will use a combination of low bands for coverage and millimeter waves above 20GHz for ultra high speed on very short distances, while wired connections (fibre), WiFi and Satellite communications will also be included in this objective of convergence.

Do you agree with this summary? What is 5G for you and what do you expect to get thanks to 5G in 2020?

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2 Responses

  1. 22 November 2016

    […] is happening today with the multiplication of ways to connect to Internet and this is also one of the promises of 5G. Be always connected to […]

  2. 5 May 2017

    […] The same way True 4G had a real definition based on IMT-Advanced, the ITU released in February 2017 the draft of IMT-2020 describing the minimum requirements related to technical performance for IMT-2020 radio interface(s), which sets the goals for 5G. […]

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