The 5G network has raised different controversies. In this article, you will find out all you need to know about this network.
The 5G network is the fifth generation of mobile networks. These networks are digital cellular networks, in which the service area covered by providers is divided into small geographical areas called cells. Analog signals representing sounds and images are digitized in the telephone, converted by an analog to digital converter and transmitted as a stream of bits. All the 5G wireless devices in a cell communicate by radio waves with a local antenna array and low power automated transceiver (transmitter and receiver) in the cell, over frequency channels assigned by the transceiver from a pool of frequencies that are reused in other cells. The local antennas are connected with the telephone network and the Internet by a high-bandwidth optical fiber or wireless backhaul connection. 5G can support up to a million devices per square kilometer, while 4G supports only up to 100,000 devices per square kilometer. The new 5G wireless devices also have 4G LTE capability, as the new networks use 4G for initially establishing the connection with the cell, as well as in locations where 5G access is not available. Initial 5G NR launches depended on existing LTE (4G) infrastructure in non-standalone (NSA) mode (5G NR software on LTE radio hardware), before maturation of the standalone (SA) mode (5G NR software on 5G NR radio hardware) with the 5G core network.
The frequency spectrum of 5G is divided into low-band, mid-band, and millimeter waves. Low-band uses a similar frequency range as the predecessor, 4G. The low-band spectrum offers the farthest area coverage but is slower than the others. While, the mid-band is the most widely deployed, in over 30 networks. Speeds in a 100 MHz wide band are usually 100–400 Mbit/s down. In the lab and occasionally in the field, speeds can go over a gigabit per second. Frequencies deployed are from 2.4 GHz to 4.2 GHz. On the other hand, the 5G millimeter wave is the fastest, with actual speeds often being 1–2 Gbit/s down. Frequencies are above 24 GHz, reaching up to 72 GHz, which is above the extremely high-frequency band’s lower boundary. The reach is short, so more cells are required. Millimeter waves have difficulty traversing many walls and windows, so indoor coverage is limited. Millimeter waves have a shorter range than microwaves, therefore the cells are limited to a smaller size. Millimeter-wave antennas are smaller than the large antennas used in previous cellular networks. Some are only a few inches (several centimeters) long.
At first, the term was associated with the International Telecommunication Union’s IMT-2020 standard, which required a theoretical peak download speed of 20 gigabits per second and 10 gigabits per second upload speed, along with other requirements. Also, the industry standards group 3GPP chose the 5G NR (New Radio) standard together with LTE as their proposal for submission to the IMT-2020 standard. 5G NR can include lower frequencies (FR1), below 6 GHz, and higher frequencies (FR2), above 24 GHz. However, the speed and latency in early FR1 deployments, using 5G NR software on 4G hardware (non-standalone), are only slightly better than new 4G systems, estimated at 15 to 50% better. Beyond mobile operator networks, 5G is also expected to be used for private networks with applications in industrial IoT, enterprise networking, and critical communications.
In March 2019, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association released the industry’s first database tracking worldwide 5G device launches. In it, the GSA identified 23 vendors who have confirmed the availability of forthcoming 5G devices with 33 different devices including regional variants. There were seven announced 5G device form factors: (telephones (×12 devices), hotspots (×4), indoor and outdoor customer-premises equipment (×8), modules (×5), Snap-on dongles and adapters (×2), and USB terminals (×1)). By October 2019, the number of announced 5G devices had risen to 129, across 15 form factors, from 56 vendors. On March 6, 2020, the first-ever all-5G smartphone Samsung Galaxy S20 was released. On March 19, HMD Global, the current maker of Nokia-branded phones, announced the Nokia 8.3, which is claimed as having a wider range of 5G compatibility than any other phone released to that time.
Most of the controversies on the 5G network has been founded on its adverse effect on human health. However, the scientific consensus is that 5G technology is safe. Misunderstanding of 5G technology has given rise to conspiracy theories which have made people quite skeptical about it. For instance, it was posited that the 5G network can lead to health issues such as brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors, and Alzheimer’s disease. During the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, several conspiracy theories circulating online also posited a link between SARS-CoV-2 and 5G. However, this has not been proven.
Aside from health issues, security concerns have also been raised concerning the 5G network. A team of researchers from ETH Zurich, the University of Lorraine and the University of Dundee in their work, “A Formal Analysis of 5G Authentication”, alerted that 5G technology could open ground for a new era of security threats. The paper described the technology as “immature and insufficiently tested,” the one that “enables the movement and access of vastly higher quantities of data, and thus broadens attack surfaces”. Also, IoT Analytics estimated an increase in the number of IoT devices, enabled by 5G technology, from 7 billion in 2018 to 21.5 billion by 2025 which can, in turn, raise the attack surface for these devices to a substantial scale, and the capacity for DDoS attacks, crypto-jacking, and other cyberattacks.
On 3 April 2019, South Korea became the first country to adopt 5G. A few hours later, Verizon launched its 5G services in the United States, and disputed South Korea’s claim of becoming the world’s first country with a 5G network, because allegedly, South Korea’s 5G service was launched initially for just six South Korean celebrities so that South Korea could claim the title of having the world’s first 5G network. Also, in June 2019, the Philippines became the first in Southeast Asia to roll out 5G network after Globe Telecom commercially launched its 5G data plans to customers. Then the AT&T brought 5G service to consumers and businesses in December 2019.