Interconnected world
​The development is leading us towards a globally interconnected world. New generations of mobile networks will be a tool for solving major societal challenges. Illustration: Pixabay​​

5G enables communicating gadgets and sustainability

The fifth generation of mobile networks, 5G, is on its way, providing all the possibilities that the new technology can offer when our gadgets are able to exchange information with each other. 5G is often described in terms of high speed and increased capacity. But the technology will also enable less waste of resources and induce a development towards a more sustainable society.
What differs 5G from the previous generations of mobile standards is that the communication largely is controlled by software, and that the ‘cloud’ is moved closer to the users and applications.

Tommy Svensson“5G is an enabler for digitalisation and more efficient processes”, says Tommy Svensson, Professor of communication systems, focusing his research on wireless communications. “This means that machines can exchange information with each other, and that many devices are connected at the same time. Sensors are collecting large amounts of data of various kinds, which are processed rapidly for tailor-made and intelligent applications.”

“Sometimes, I call myself a digital navvy; I'm building wireless digital roads. My research deals with the infrastructure and how data traffic can travel wirelessly, quickly and without obstacles. At the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology we are successful in our research on mobile systems, in my area with the focus on radio traffic to and from base stations in the mobile network, as well as in research on mobile base stations and vehicle communications.”

Fast, robust and powerful
5G consists of more advanced technical solutions than 4G and therefore enables the technology to be used for many more purposes. The researchers regard 5G as a tool for solving major societal challenges: climate impact, scarce natural resources, food production, care for an aging population, safe working environments, etc.

“This new technology not only enables ‘Internet of information’ but also ‘Internet of skills’. That means that the exchange of information, as well as skills and abilities, can be performed from a distance,” Tommy Svensson continues. “For example, the possibility of remotely controlling machines in a mine from a safe and comfortable office above ground. Or surgery that can be performed from a distance and thus enabling more patients to benefit from the expertise of specialist doctors.”

In order to perform this kind of advanced tasks correctly and safely from a distance, the communication system must be robust and allow very quick data transports. 5G may reduce delays in the data transmission to as short as 1 millisecond. The network can then also be virtually divided into software-controlled slices, where different slices can be designed and dynamically created for individual tasks. In that way the performance is ensured.

Augmented reality is a concept that is often mentioned in the context of 5G. It means combining reality with digital content, via a mobile phone or through special glasses, that allows for the surroundings to be experienced with computer generated images placed on top. The faster the data transfer is, the more applications are available.

Paves the way for greater sustainability
“In my opinion, 5G clearly enables a transfer from a ‘wear and tear’ mentality to a society that is based on a higher degree of sustainability”, says Tommy Svensson. “Partly it is about the technology itself, and partly about what can be achieved by using the technology.”

The 5G technology saves energy by streamlining the control of radio signals and by transferring only what is really needed – no superfluous system information needs to be handled. This makes the connection ten times more energy efficient than 4G of today.

Through various applications of 5G, processes can be made more efficient and consume less resources. This means that it will be possible to benefit from individual and condition-based solutions, provided by multi-connected machines that are able to exchange information with each other.

Many applications
“In smart cities, public transports and other means of transportation can be adapted to external circumstances and to people's intentions”, Tommy Svensson exemplifies. “This makes the traffic flow smoother and less energy-consuming in total. The same applies to water consumption, waste management and other community services. Self-driving cars may not have their breakthrough as fast as originally anticipated, but by using mobile technology it is evident that they eventually will be an important component of the smart transport system of the future.”

In agriculture, it will be possible to individually regulate watering and fertilization according to the needs of each plant through connected farm machinery and systems for data analysis. Another example is industrial production systems that can be made more flexible and thus enabling faster adjustments of the production to new conditions. If the machine park is equipped with connected sensors, maintenance measures can be adapted to the actual need without causing unplanned downtime.

“In the future, the driving force for manufacturing companies will be more focused on creating offers that are sustainable, since it will be the services provided rather than the products themselves that the customers want to pay for,” says Tommy Svensson. “This development is being promoted in the connected 5G community.”

E-health; using digital tools and exchanging information digitally to achieve and maintain good health, is an area also of great interest related to the 5G technology. The possibilities range from virtual meetings with doctors from home to sensors on the body and in textiles that record and analyze health data, thus providing individual-based diagnostics and treatment.

In the connected 5G community, sensors in our everyday environment will collect real-time data and send radio signals via fixed and mobile base stations to masts in the mobile network, and also in the opposite direction. Illustration: Pernilla Börjesson

Needs to be handled with judgment
However, the possibilities that the technology implies can also evoke fear and hesitation, for example concerning privacy and information security.

“5G is a tool, and just like any other tool 5G can be used for both good and not so good purposes”, Tommy Svensson says. “It is important to have an open debate about what kind of society we want in the future and ensure that the legislation keeps up with the new technology that is being introduced. However, the opportunities outweigh the risks. I am confident that we will find a good balance.”

New generations will follow
On a small scale, 5G networks already exist. The development of the technology is in full swing and in autumn 2020, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority ​will hold an auction of the frequency ranges for 5G. The introduction will take place in stages, where several mobile network generations will exist in parallel. The industry's assessment is that the major breakthrough of the 5G technology will be in five to ten years.

To most people, 5G might be a new and exciting technology, but the aim of the researchers is now set for 6G.

”Currently, we have some interesting research projects underway. For example, we want to study how to integrate artificial intelligence into the sixth generation of mobile communication networks”, says Tommy Svensson. “When AI becomes part of the communication system, you can really talk about a revolution in intelligent services. 6G is likely to be introduced around year 2030.”

Text: Yvonne Jonsson

For more information, contact
Tommy Svensson, Professor in the Communication systems research group, where he is leading the wireless systems research, Department of Electrical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology

Facts about 5G

  • Machine to machine communication – a large increase in the number of connected gadgets that are able to exchange information with each other, also called ‘Internet of Things’.
  • Considerable growth in data traffic – about 1000 times more than today. 5G can handle a larger amount of data from multiple devices simultaneously.
  • Higher transmission speed – top speeds up to 10 times higher than 4G, about 10 Gbit / second.
  • Less latency, shorter response times – about 1 millisecond compared to 25-35 milliseconds today.
  • Lower energy consumption – the connection via 5G becomes ten times more energy efficient than today's 4G. 5G requires only 0.2 watts of energy to transmit 1 megabyte of data.
  • Hig​her frequencies – in its first stage, 5G uses the frequency band 3.4-3.8 GHz, and in the future also the millimeter wave band (over 24 GHz). To get a god range, this requires more advanced solutions using many antennas per base station.

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Page manager Published: Mon 31 Aug 2020.