What is 5G? In the beginning, there was no “G” (G stands for Generation) not even 1G…there was only cellular communication… and everyone was happy that they could talk on the phone while walking around or driving in a car. Then, in 1991 we moved from analog cell phones to digital cell phones and started the whole “G” naming experience with 2G. It was only when we looked back at the analog phone that we recognized it was really 1G. Since then we have moved up the G numbering system and also started to add subtitles to the G for example 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution).
Each G added new features such as SMS (Short Message Service), which was the original text messaging service from way back in the 80’s. Text messages on SMS were limited to 160 characters, which is why Twitter currently limits Tweets to 140 characters. The remaining 20 characters were set aside for the user name. SMS then grew up to become MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) which has allowed us to transmit photographs, video, audio files, and exchange contact details, in other words, all the things that are commonplace today. Each increase in “G” offered a corresponding increase in download and upload speed and capability, and soon we zoomed along to 4G and everyone was happy. So exactly how did each successive “G” offer more speed and capability?
What is 5G
It all comes down to the way that the cell phone signal is modulated and processed. For those of us who remember the days of A.M. (Amplitude Modulation) radio, you will of course also remember the amount of background noise, whistles and crackles that you could hear while trying to listen to your favorite radio station.
If you were travelling in a car with your radio tuned to the latest popular music station it often meant that you could miss a whole verse of the song as you went around a long bend or through an avenue of trees. Even sitting at home your A.M. radio would often pick up the electronic interference of a passing car or truck, or even another radio station in the same frequency band, also called second channel interference. The advantage of AM radio was that it operated in the lower end of the radio band, between 500 KHz to 1600 KHz (back then we called it “Cycles” or “Kilo Cycles”). This low frequency also means that the signal travels a long way, and consequently we could listen to a radio station that was not just outside of our city, but even outside of our country.
Types of 5G Radio Modulation
Then along came F.M. (Frequency Modulation) radio and the world of radio sounded quieter and very different. Long rides in the car were no longer an issue. However, FM radio operates in the range of 88 Mega Hertz (MHz) to 108MHz. At this frequency range you can no longer listen to a very distant radio station.
The advantage was a large improvement in the quality of the received signal, no second channel interference, but with a corresponding loss of distance. Cell phone “G” increases are conceptually similar to the change from AM to FM in the radio world. 3G and 4G are similarly just different types of modulation, like AM and FM. Likewise, the change from 4G to 5G is yet another change in the way the cell signal is processed, and allows for faster upload and download speeds. Various numbers exists for speed increases ranging from ten times faster to one hundred times faster. The biggest change that a user will notice is how fast your device can communicate with another device.
5G is just another form of modulation… but what about frequency?
We have established that 5G is just another form of modulation, but why is everyone saying that it will not work in rural locations? Well, we also talked about how A.M. frequency is lower than the F.M. frequency, and that the lower frequency travels farther than the higher frequency. So the general 5G scuttlebutt is really all based around frequency. At this time, 5G will primarily be used at a frequency between 2 Giga Hertz (GHZ) and 6 GHZ. (One Giga Hertz is equal to a 1,000 Mega Hertz.)
It is true that at these frequencies a cell phone signal would not travel far, and would not penetrate buildings. This alone would create a whole bunch of other complications for customers in urban and rural locations as most buildings would then be cell signal quiet, and rural locations will be even harder to reach by conventional means. There is, however, discussion about having 5G deployed at the sub 6GHz level.
Furthermore, there is no logical reason why 5G could not be deployed at even lower frequencies, including the current 4G spectrum of 800 MHz to 2100 MHz … and even lower still. Consider the recent Industry Canada Spectrum Band Auction for 600MHz. This band was set up for auction so that interested Canadian telecommunications operators could bid for licenses to use the 600MHz frequency band. The auction was released on March 12th 2019 and completed April 14th 2019. The final results of the bids are shown below:
600 MHz Auction — 5G Final Results
|600 MHz License Winners|
|License Winners||# of Licenses Won||Final Price ($)||Total Population Covered|
The results of this auction has provided the Canadian operators with a low-frequency that is able to penetrate through buildings, and provide long distance coverage to areas such as rural locations. Considering the world seems to be rapidly moving to 5G as the new standard, the obvious question is “why would operators want to buy this spectrum if they were not going to use it in a 5G environment?” It seems extremely likely that 600MHz will be in the list of the new 5G frequencies to be used, and indeed, in the US, Sprint T-Mobile are already claiming a 600MHz 5G America wide roll out, and already claim to be able to reach 200 Million people with 5G. However, this low spectrum comes with a detrimental effect to the upload and download speed vs. the higher 5G frequency bands. So really this 600MHz 5G band will be “5G Lite” and not the full version of 5G at the higher frequency spectrum.
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Why are cell phone bills so high?
Have you ever wondered why your cell phone bills are so high compared to that of the US? If you look at the above auction figures, you will see how much each carrier paid for the rights to use the 600MHz band signal. There is a metric being used called the Price Per Megahertz Population, abbreviated to MHz-pop. It refers to one megahertz of bandwidth passing one person in the coverage area (total population covered) in the spectrum license. On average, in the US, the cell phone network providers paid $0.93 per MHz-pop.
Using the same metrics, Canadian cell phone network providers paid on average $1.89 MHz-pop or roughly twice the price. Obviously that investment has to be recovered and hence Canadian cell phone bills are proportionately more expensive than US bills.
- Higher Frequency = Faster speeds but Shorter distances.
- Lower Frequency = Slower speeds but Longer distances.
Since the frequency used by a 5G cell dictates the speed and distance, it’s important for a service provider to use a part of the spectrum that includes frequencies that benefit the job at hand.
Example of 5G Usage By Carrier
T-Mobile uses low-band spectrum (600 MHz) as well as mid-band spectrum. The T-Mobile website claims it “has the first, largest, and only nationwide 5G network, covering more people and places than anyone else.”
Verizon’s 5G Ultra-Wideband network uses millimeter waves, specifically 28 GHz and 39 GHz. The Verizon website claims “To deliver the full potential of 5G, a company must possess three fundamental assets: Massive spectrum holdings, particularly in the millimeter wave bands. End-to-end deep fiber resources. Ability to deploy large numbers of small cells. Verizon is the only company that brings all three pieces together.”
AT&T’s deployment strategy is to use millimeter wave spectrum for dense areas and mid and low-spectrum for rural and suburban locations. AT&T claims to have “invested more in the U.S. than any other public company. Our wireless network now covers more than 99% of Americans, our fiber network is one of the nations largest and we connect more IoT devices than any other provider in North America.”
Sprint, now owned by T Mobile, claims to “have more spectrum than any other carrier in the US, with three spectrum bands: 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz.”
Will 5G help in rural environments?
The short answer is both Yes and No. 5G is not a magic pill that will solve rural cell phone coverage problems. If you currently do not have cellular signal coverage in your local environment, 5G will not be the automatic solution. In order to take advantage of the many opportunities that 5G will present, your local area must first of all have some level of quality cell phone signal. If you can’t get cell phone signal at 4G or even 3G then you will not get 5G. 5G will help with applications based on the Internet Of Things (IOT), such as monitoring livestock characteristics such as milk yield, and general animal health. It will also help with crop management including pesticide and fertilizer coverage, harvesting, monitoring field conditions such as soil temperature or to show when a crop needs watering.
All of the monitoring techniques available in real time through the 5G network will assist in improving crop yields and help with the generation of higher quality products. Self-guiding tractors will become a standard on 5G connected farms and the driver will simply sit there to ensure everything is working as it should and to input any specific criteria such as type of fertilizer for a particular crop, or to start the tractor doing a particular job at a specified location.
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What is 5G in the US
If you have quality 4G signal and are happy with the results you are getting then stick with it. 5G is very much used as a sales tactic in the same way that car manufacturers use the term Green in their sales brochures. If you have poor cell phone signal, or no cell phone signal, and want to get 5G, but your provider is not willing to install the necessary tower equipment, then your only other option would be to buy a commercial quality F.C.C. and Industry Canada certified and approved cell phone booster. If it’s been a while since you signed up your phone plan you can often get a better deal by just checking with your provider or comparing your plan against a new provider.
Remember, that all of this new technology comes with another important issue; will my existing 4G phone work with 5G? The short answer is that no it won’t work with 5G, you will need to buy another phone; But when do you buy a 5G phone…. well that’s another story entirely.
5G Rural and Country Contribution
Telcosat Inc is based in Alberta Canada and is a designer and manufacturer of outdoor cell phone signal boosters as well as indoor Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS). They have designed and installed cellular boosters for a large variety of rural and remote communities in Canada, the US, South America, and some African countries.