There has been increased expectations merged with heightened anxiety across the world in recent weeks about the roll-out of the next-generation telephony network—the 5G. Is it a trend, some futuristic idea or a matter meant for the computer geeks alone? Going forward, how does this affect you, the way you live, the way you work and the way you connect with the world? What are the safety concerns? How soon before it is rolled out in Nigeria? These and a few other questions will be answered in this post.
What is the 5G Spectrum?
The 5G spectrum is a range of radio frequencies in the sub-6 GHz range and the millimetre-wave frequency range that is 24.25 GHz and above. It also refers to the radio frequencies that carry data from user equipment (UE) to cellular base stations to the data’s endpoint. The 5G network, the next generation of mobile broadband, is expected to eventfully augment the present 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) connection in mobile telephony. With 5G, we will see a drastically increased speed of download and upload of data. The time it takes our devices to communicate with wireless networks is also expected to be exponentially augmented. The present 4G LTE has a peak performance of 1GB per second; 5G is expected to achieve speeds of up to 20GB per second– imagine downloading a 100GB game in 5 seconds!
The 5G network is designed to meet the exponentially increasing growth in data and connectivity demands of the modern society. It will finally create a seamless possibility for the internet of things (IoT) with billions of connected devices, and new future innovations.
Generations of Mobile Network
The 1G refers to the first generation of wireless telephone technology introduced in 1979 and the early to mid-1980s and continued until being replaced by 2G digital telecommunications. The transition from the 1G to the 2G is the first major leap from analogue to digital communication networks.
2G The benefit pf digital encryption of conversation was made possible by the 2G. It also introduced data services for mobile, starting with SMS (Short Message Service) plain text-based messages. The 2G cellular telecom networks were commercially launched in 1991.
3G was a major leap in information transfer rate at 144 Kbit/s. Later 3G releases provided mobile broadband access of several Mbit/s to smartphones and mobile modems in laptop computers. This ensures it can be applied to wireless voice telephony, mobile Internet access, fixed wireless Internet access, video calls and mobile TV technologies.
The 4G open new vistas besides the basic services offered by the 3G:
· Access to broadband Internet Services
· IP Telephony
· HD mobile TV
· Cloud Computing
Then, we have the 5G.
How can the 5G make the world a different place?
5G technology will be a game-changer and change your life in many different ways. The key areas are:
Extremely Reliable Low Latency Communications – Low latency describes the ease of connecting your devices with another on the wireless network and the capacity of data that you can transfer without losing connection. For highly important missions where reliability is of utmost concern, the 5G network is expected to deliver excellently. This involves real-time control of devices, manufacturing and industrial robotic systems, driverless vehicles, new surgical automation procedures etc.
Internet of Things (IoT) — This massive machine to machine communications involves connecting billions of devices (without human intervention) at an unprecedented scale. As it is said in this field, “anything that can be connected will be connected”.
Enhanced mobile broadband – At the rate of 20GB/s, this is going to be a significantly faster data speeds and greater capacity. It will Also create opportunities for new applications that will interface with fixed wireless internet access for homes, broadcasting outdoor events without the need for broadcast vans but simple mobile applications, safety and security, smart schools, safer vehicles, military hardware, massive software analytics mining (big data in business), etc.
New and Emerging technologies— In the field of virtual and augmented reality, the hardware barrier will be broken and the content will be available to everyone through a simple application. Imagine if you do not need to spend tens of thousands of naira to buy a PS5 but simply download an app. With 5G and VR, travel and tours will take a new meaning with virtual travels becoming a new thing. You can choose to travel to your favourite city, see a live football match, inspect a real estate… the list goes on.
What are the safety concerns?
There have been safety concerns around the world about the safety of the 5G network. However, the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a body that assesses the health risks of radio broadcasts, has updated its guidelines to give a nod to the millimetre-wave 5G. This is the first time they will update their guideline in 20 years. While explaining this, Dr Jack Rowley, senior director for research and sustainability at GSMA, the industry body for mobile network operators clarifies that millimetre-wave 5G, and other broadcast connections above the 6GHz band, “were not anticipated in 1998”.
By far the most contentious concern raised by critics of the 5G deployment is that though the 5G does emit “microwave” radiation just like anything using 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the 5G’s number of antennas, the proximity of antennas and the power levels coming from them make it hazardous. For instance according to GSMA, while estimating the cost of new infrastructure for the 5G, states on its website that “roughly 9 cells of 20GHz will be needed to replace a cell of 3.5GHz if same coverage is to be provided.” Meanwhile, as of 2018, the USA has around 350,000 cell sites. That easily translates to a huge number of cell sites — from 350,000 to like 3,150,000 cell sites in this case.
Tony Nwakalor, an Environmental Biologist, said on Channels TV recently that the millimetre waveband of the 5G spectrum is where he has a problem. According to him the Extremely High Frequency (EHF) designated as part of the 5G by ITU, stand the chance of being absorbed into biological lives. This he said affects the orientation of oxygen in the blood and according to him, “this is death in doses”. He stated that the idea is widely supported by recent in vivo and in vitro researches. However, mm-wave frequencies are categorized as non-ionizing radiation by the standard organisations, meaning that the energy of the smallest unit of these EM-waves is too little to cause electrons to move from their orbits.
The National Communications Commission (NCC), has also come out to answer to these claims. According to Dr. Henry Nkemadu, Director, Public Affairs, NCC, “5G is an improvement on today’s 4G technology, designed to transform the world positively”. He clarified that Nigeria has not officially deployed 5G technology but had only approved testing.
“The NCC, back in November 2019, approved trial test for 5G for a period of three months, and the trial has been concluded and installation decommissioned. The trial, among others, was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present. Relevant stakeholders, including members of the security agencies, were invited to participate during the trial” he said.
5G Roll-outs Across Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa only has a 3% deployment rate of the 5G network. This excludes Nigeria that is yet to give out 5G licences to operators. South Korea has the highest deployment rate at 59%, followed by the USA (50%), Japan (48%), China (29%) and all of Europe at 29%.
Lesotho leads in the 5G deployment in Africa. Vodacom Lesotho remains the first to announce a live commercial deployment of 5G in August 2018. But the service is not yet mainstream in the country. South Africa has a few deployments of the 5G on the mid-band 3.6 GHz band (Rain 5G, Liquid Telecom SA and Vodacom SA 5G).
With access to the largest tranche of contiguous 28 GHz in South Africa, Comsol is the only ISP in the capacity for the super high-speed 5G broadband using the mm-Wave band.