An exposition on the 5G technology, opportunities and challenges of the accompanying network.
Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks are pitched to become the next big leap in mobile broadband. With a particular focus on Nigeria, 5G will bring about inestimable transformation in the country in several areas, including smart cities, smart transportation, precision medicine, and efficient healthcare, agriculture, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Because of its high speed, reliability, and negligible latency, 5G will expand the global mobile ecosystem into new realms. This essay paints an easy-to-understand picture of what the fifth-generation technology is, how it works, and why, in light of exponential technological advancement, we need a much-capable network to ensure seamless navigation and increased operational productivity in our lives and industries. Equally, this essay discusses the vast opportunities the 5G network will lay within our grasp, how these opportunities stand to shape our future and economy as a nation. It also highlights the possible challenges faced in the deployment of 5G mobile wireless communication technology around the country.
Following the previous generations of mobile network – the 1G, which delivered analog voice; 2G of the early 1990s, which introduced digital voice; 3G of the 2000s, with its provision of access to mobile data, and 4G of the 2010s, which ushered in the era of mobile broadband – 5G is the fifth-generation mobile network, a new global wireless standard which enables a nascent kind of network appropriately designed to connect both people and things virtually, without much-experienced latency.
Like its 4G predecessor, 5G networks operate through a service area divided into small geographical areas called ‘cells.’ In a particular cell, wireless devices that are 5G-oriented are connected to the Internet and telephone network utilizing radio waves through a local antenna in each cell. The 5G broadband technology is based on Orthogonal Frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), a method employed for the modulation of digital signals across different channels to limit interference. Unlike the 4G, the fifth-generation network also uses wider bandwidth technologies (such as sub-6 GHz and MMwave) which will bring about an extreme capacity, multi-gigs per seconds throughput, and extremely low latency. The life we could experience with the 5G technology is one we have only been able to envisage through the lenses of our imaginations. The global landscape will become more interconnected, and easier to navigate with the efficiency this network stands to bear, connectivity than was ever before available.
Very commonly, people ask; what will 5G offer differently from current experiences and services? The easy response is that 5G is designed to not only deliver faster, better mobile broadband services compared to 4G- LTE, but can also expand into new service areas, such as mission-critical communications and connecting the massive Internet of things( IoT). Given the exponential mobile data traffic witnessed in Nigeria, there is a need for an effective and cost-efficient network expansion to ensure optimal support for this traffic growth .
In Nigeria currently, the number of internet users is more or less 104.4 million, leaving Internet penetration at 50 percent as of 2021. This proves how highly connected Nigerians are. It also translates that, the 4G- LTE has become largely insufficient to sustain the trajectory of our development, especially for the majority of the IoT use cases.
Compared to 4G, the fifth-generation network is significantly faster with low latency, and it has more carrying capacity. 5G networks employ a better spectrum that supports both high, mid, and low band frequencies. With its high speed, reliability, and negligible latency, “5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms.” More so, it will enable quick data transfer over wide coverage areas. According to expert technologists, 5G technology will have huge impacts on every industry and sector via safer transportation, efficient and remote healthcare, energy, agriculture, etc.
OPPORTUNITIES OF 5G NETWORK
Both in individual and collective lives, the opportunities that trail the 5G network cannot be overemphasized. Its ultra-high speed will make it possible to access data at a speed two hundred (200) times faster than that of the 4G network . Consider streaming or downloading high-definition videos with infinitesimal delay. This feature is of huge importance especially for individuals who depend on the internet to perform major tasks like attending online classes, hosting business meetings, to mention but a few. Also, industries reliant on high speed, low latency can ensure increased operational productivity and precision. These inestimable opportunities are a function of the technology’s “transformative characteristics.”
With the advent of 5G, there is an opportunity to close the burgeoning gap between rural and urban access to fixed broadband internet services. Communities in rural areas have been largely marginalized and denied access to benefits like education, jobs, healthcare, etc. With robust 5G networks providing ubiquity and some level of digital equity, these populations will become more integrated into society .
The deployment of 5G could provide significant economic benefits in Nigeria. In a 2018 analysis prepared by Accenture, 5G technology could contribute, by 2026, to the creation of 250,000 permanent jobs and an increase in GDP by $40 billion in Canada .
In the agricultural sector, for example, 5G could aid in precision farming through monitoring soil components and controlling irrigation by computerized processes. Fertilizer applications could be performed by drones controlled from a remote station. This will ensure the production of viable, pest-free crops, and also help tackle Nigeria’s growing food problem. The UN predicts that food production must double by 2050 to meet the growing population and that innovative strategies are needed to reach this mark . 5G presents an opportunity to increase Nigeria’s agricultural productivity in a method not only of benefit to farmers or their businesses but the society more broadly.
Crucially, the 5G network could unlock new dimensions in the health sector in the area of remote surgeries or treatment. In dire situations and with 5G’s ultra-low latency, life-saving surgeries could be performed or assisted by doctors located remotely but connected by a platform. This innovation could cause a trickle-down in the number of deaths during emergency cases. Through a 5G connected platform, patients can interact with doctors, receive a diagnosis, prescriptions and are monitored, without necessarily visiting hospitals. Also, connected ambulances could serve as a mobile emergency room where patient data is collected and streamed in real-time to emergency teams at the hospital, which monitors the patient’s conditions and makes prompt decisions to quicken the onsite treatment process.
CHALLENGES OF 5G NETWORK
In the race to 5G, several challenges have slowed the deployment process of the network. These challenges are distributed across the global sphere; highly developed countries like the UK, US, and Canada face challenges including, but not limited to, poor fiber penetration, security of the network, vendor monopoly, regulations guiding broadband distribution, and lack of adequate investment .
In Nigeria, the rollout of 5G networks has been slowed as a result of health concerns and public hysteria. Nigerians managed to relate the COVID-19 virus as a direct consequence of the radiations generated by 5G cells . Though uninformed, this fear has raised pertinent questions about the safety of this new network. The 5G network will comprise several radiating communication cells located approximately 100 meters apart, and capable of radiating high-power electromagnetic waves. Although experts have assured that radiations emitted by these cells are largely non-ionizing, the Nigerian senate moved a motion to suspend rollout and installation of the network in the country .
Furthermore, the higher-density 5G network brings new power supply demands. This increase in energy consumption is a result of additional equipment and 5G base stations necessary for high-density coverage . For several decades, Nigeria has experienced an epileptic power supply. This crisis has not only contributed to the pitiable quality of service, but it has also hindered network expansion into rural areas and poses a huge challenge in our plans to implement the 5G technology. During a panel session at the 2020 Lagos social media week, Bako Wakil, Director of Technical Standards & Network Integrity, NCC, also highlighted poor electrical power supply and lack of adequate fiber cable for backhauling as major hindrances to 5G deployment .
Several other challenges include scarcity of 5G-oriented devices, cost of equipment as a result of the high exchange rate of the country’s local currency, and availability of service. Huge investment is required to reduce the astronomical cost for network operators, prevent a vendor monopoly playout. All this may further prolong rollout time and service availability of the 5G network.
In conclusion, this essay has provided insights into some of the opportunities and challenges in 5G mobile technology. To ensure that 5G deployment and operation within Nigeria is a success, the challenges brought to the fore by this essay must be squarely tackled. The countries that have achieved optimization of the 5G network have had to overcome some of these challenges. Nigeria should follow the steps of these countries while exploring novel practical solutions.
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About the Writer
John Ekwe is an undergraduate English Language student at a Nigerian university and a writer.