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What Is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology. It is designed to increase speed, reduce latency, and improve flexibility of wireless services. 5G technology has a theoretical peak speed of 20 Gbps, while the peak speed of 4G is only 1 Gbps.

5G also promises lower latency, which can improve the performance of business applications as well as other digital experiences (such as online gaming, videoconferencing, and self-driving cars). 

What is 5G technology?

While earlier generations of cellular technology (such as 4G LTE) focused on ensuring connectivity, 5G takes connectivity to the next level by delivering connected experiences from the cloud to clients. 5G networks are virtualized and software-driven, and they exploit cloud technologies.

The 5G network will also simplify mobility, with seamless open roaming capabilities between cellular and Wi-Fi access. Mobile users can stay connected as they move between outdoor wireless connections and wireless networks inside buildings without user intervention or the need for users to reauthenticate. 

The new Wi-Fi 6 wireless standard (also known as 802.11ax) shares traits with 5G, including improved performance. Wi-Fi 6 radios can be placed where users need them to provide better geographical coverage and lower cost. Underlying these Wi-Fi 6 radios is a software-based network with advanced automation.

5G technology should improve connectivity in underserved rural areas and in cities where demand can outstrip today's capacity with 4G technology. New 5G networks will also have a dense, distributed-access architecture and move data processing closer to the edge and the users to enable faster data processing.


How does 5G technology work?

5G technology will introduce advances throughout network architecture. 5G New Radio, the global standard for a more capable 5G wireless air interface, will cover spectrums not used in 4G. New antennas will incorporate technology known as massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which enables multiple transmitters and receivers to transfer more data at the same time. But 5G technology is not limited to the new radio spectrum. It is designed to support a converged, heterogeneous network combining licensed and unlicensed wireless technologies. This will add bandwidth available for users.

5G architectures will be software-defined platforms, in which networking functionality is managed through software rather than hardware. Advancements in virtualization, cloud-based technologies, and IT and business process automation enable 5G architecture to be agile and flexible and to provide anytime, anywhere user access. 5G networks can create software-defined subnetwork constructs known as network slices. These slices enable network administrators to dictate network functionality based on users and devices.

5G also enhances digital experiences through machine-learning (ML)-enabled automation. Demand for response times within fractions of a second (such as those for self-driving cars) require 5G networks to enlist automation with ML and, eventually, deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Automated provisioning and proactive management of traffic and services will reduce infrastructure cost and enhance the connected experience.


When will 5G be available and how will it expand?

5G service is already available in some areas in various countries. These early-generation 5G services are called 5G non-standalone (5G NSA). This technology is a 5G radio that builds on existing 4G LTE network infrastructure. 5G NSA will be faster than 4G LTE. But the high-speed, low-latency 5G technology the industry has focused on is 5G standalone (5G SA). It should start becoming available by 2020 and be commonly available by 2022.


What is the real-world impact of 5G technology?

5G technology will not only usher in a new era of improved network performance and speed but also new connected experiences for users.

In healthcare, 5G technology and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity will enable patients to be monitored via connected devices that constantly deliver data on key health indicators, such as heart rate and blood pressure. In the auto industry, 5G combined with ML-driven algorithms will provide information on traffic, accidents, and more; vehicles will be able to share information with other vehicles and entities on roadways, such as traffic lights. These are just two industry applications of 5G technology that can enable better, safer experiences for users.


What is the Cisco contribution to 5G technology?

Cisco provides this automated, cloud-to-client, software-based network for 5G. Cisco ONE architecture is a cloud-first, software-defined architecture that spans enterprise and service provider deployments seamlessly--this includes open roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi, including the new Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax), which shares several attributes with 5G architecture.