Just 30 years after Windows 95 shipped on twenty-one 1.44 MB floppy disks, the average person transmits 4 GB of data per day—and Huawei predicts data usage will increase 30-fold by 2025. To handle this explosive amount of data, leaders in the telecommunications infrastructure are preparing their networks for 5G, and heavily leaning on intelligent automation to run them.
What is 5G and how do speeds compare to other technologies?
Companies and innovators have propagated a full-blown hype machine to extol the god-like benefits of 5G. But, despite its ubiquity, many consumers are still unclear, left wondering exactly how much faster 5G is than the technologies used today.
The ‘G’ in 5G stands for ‘generation,’ and reigns as the current crown king in a long chain of technologies that have worked together to universalize the smartphone activities we take for granted. A quick look back:
- 1G: Brick-sized devices plodded along at a casual 2.4Kbps. Early cell phones exclusively carried voice signals and operated on tech more akin to radio than the internet-enabled devices we know now.
- 2G: 2G bid adieu to analog signals and was the first foray into digital. Its 40Kbps unleashed clearer voice transmission and introduced the era of rapid-fire text and photo messaging.
- 3G: Cruising at 7.2Mbps, cellular tech could now carry more interesting data packets like photos and websites that were better able to mimic the PC experience. 3G is still the most widely used around the world, covering 87% of populated areas.
- 4G: On average, 4G devices clock in at about 20-40Mbps, toppling 3G speeds. 4G devices download Avengers: Endgame at lightning speeds and in vivid detail. It’s also the speed at the foundation of Zoom meetings and real-time first-responder connectivity. However, mobile speeds are still a ways off from wired networks.
5G promises speeds around 10Gpbs—100x faster than 4G—and a bellowing and lasting far cry from the 2.4Kbps speeds of the early cell phone. 5G is set to streamline automated tasks in brand new ways from factory floors to self-driving cars.
How do 5G and automation go hand in hand?
Intelligent automation in the telecom industry will play such a starring role in the 5G roll out, that one thought leader noted that “tomorrow’s network operations center will only have a man and a dog.” Networks will run autonomously, churning through infinitely large data sets to adjust network capacity based on real-time insight. While there are only 7.7 billion people on the planet, Huawei also predicts there will be 100 billion connections around the world by 2025—a behemoth amount that no number of humans could manage through manual activity.
With its sweeping promises, 5G is set to change the game for businesses and consumers across every industry from sporting events to operating rooms. We’re entering an era of “ubiquitous sensing,” where cell phones won’t be the only devices demanding access to the airwaves, but previously silent equipment will now join the digital revolution. Oil derricks and washing machines and even salt shakers are signing online, and communication service providers (CSPs) are using automation to accommodate the skyrocketing demand. Even cows will get an IP address, with Huawei also predicting 1 billion connected cows grazing the digital cornfield by 2025. 5G will debut a level of computing power that churns through data and finds solutions to traveling-salesman-level problems that have flummoxed mathematicians for years.
Automation is the backbone of what makes it possible. With more and more devices transmitting astronomically more digital tonnage, CSPs use automation to allocate system resources to support real-time usage, enabling them to fully support this brave new world.
How does 5G rely on automation to deliver ultra-fast, low-latency signals?
Videos, gargantuan data sets, photos, and even gifs now clog the airwaves, but the signals of tomorrow will carry far more critical information. How can intelligent automation help CSPs when carrying signals that activate vehicle brakes or direct the movements of a robotic surgeon?
Provision networks in real time
There’s no time to spare when billions of devices are knocking on the data door asking for transmission. Automated systems can provision networks in real time, constantly adjusting to ensure a steady signal for everyone. Artificial intelligence can gain serious insight into network usage and more accurately predict peaks and troughs than human models.
Instead of deploying legacy ways of thinking, leaders are upgrading their systems to rely on cloud automation techniques like software-defined networking (SDN). Similar to how Amazon Web Services enables dynamic network configuration without the need for manual input, CSPs are using this methodology to allocate their own network resources.
Prioritize certain devices or sectors
Using automation, CSPs can also customize different segments of a 5G network based on the type of traffic. Called dynamic network slicing, systems can automatically adjust certain slices of the network to suit different use-case demands. For example, the infrastructure of the City of Cleveland’s fire department has different needs than a suite of smart watches. Dynamic network slicing enables CSPs to offer different deployments and architectures depending on the needs of the device, industry type, or business model.
Diagnose system malfunctions
Instead of playing a cross-Atlantic riff on the children’s game of Telephone, 5G networks involve a careful choreography of millions of devices. 5G signals are fast, but they can’t fly over long distances—they need smaller cell sites to relay signals. Because 5G requires so many of these sites, infrastructure leaders have worked to shrink them from the size of a Mack truck to the size of a pizza box. Automated systems can keep a close eye on millions of antennas, transmitters, and receivers. They can constantly check in on each one to perform tests and check its health. This ubiquitous proactive monitoring can spot problems before they snowball into serious issues.
While 5G can deliver the next episode of The Mandalorian in near instantaneous 4K video, its low latency is the real gamechanger. A signal that can reach its destination at never-before-seen speeds has serious implications: signals not only fly faster, but zap lags and carry heavier loads with a minimal gap between sender and recipient. Surgeons can operate on a patient in Shanghai by moving robotic arms from Miami, self-driving cars can incorporate incoming feeds to reroute—or even hit the brakes.
5G also accelerates immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences. Brands can curate highly detailed virtual worlds where consumers can take a new car for a test drive, or visit a celebrity’s home to ooh and ahh at their collection of extravagant NFTs. The digital dwelling can change based on external real-time data and even react to the behaviors of other participants.
The infrastructure supporting all this new activity will be nearly autonomous. The dog, after all, will only be there “to make sure the man doesn’t touch any of the computing systems.”