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Dr. Xianbin Wang on the Power of 5G

5G Xianbin Wang header
5G Xianbin Wang header
Dr. Xianbin Wang

Dr. Xianbin Wang

Professor & Tier-1 Canada Research Chair in 5G and Wireless IoT Communications, Western University

Dr. Xianbin Wang is Professor and Tier-1 Canada Research Chair in 5G and Wireless IoT Communications at Western University in London, ON. His research interests include 5G and beyond, wireless security, and Internet of Things (IoT). We asked him to debunk some of the biggest misconceptions about 5G technology.

What’s the difference between 5G and 4G technologies?

There are noticeably many differences between 5G and 4G technologies in terms of data rates, communication latency, and reliability. As a result, 5G could provide significantly-improved communication performance and user satisfaction, compared with 4G.

One of the most distinctive differences is the supporting of machine communications in different industries by 5G technologies. 4G, as well as previous generation wireless technologies, was primarily designed for supporting human communications, which includes phone calls, video streaming, and browsing the internet.

While 4G was a huge success for the smart device manufacturers and mobile app developers, the key function of 4G is mainly for facilitating the communications between humans, which is ineffective to support the huge number of machine-type devices in industry settings. As a comparison, 5G has inherent technical capabilities of delivering low-latency and high-reliability communications between massive number of machine-type devices, including sensors, actuators, and intelligent machines. Furthermore, 5G is able to provide significantly increased data rates for mobile broadband multimedia communications.

What’s a common misconception people have about 5G technology?

I’m not surprised that people may have misconceptions about the 5G technology since the new technology will have great impact on people’s lives in different ways. As far as I’m concerned, the most common misconception people may have about 5G technology is that many of them believe 4G will be immediately replaced by 5G.

First of all, a significant amount of resources have been invested to develop 4G infrastructures over the years. The abandonment of 4G infrastructure and technologies means a huge waste of resources. Secondly, 4G actually has a few advantages over 5G such as better signal coverage for human-to-human communications. Considering the high number of remote areas in Canada, 4G and 5G technologies can complement each other and improve the quality of service for users.

Generally, there are mainly two deployment paths for 5G: non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA). Under NSA, 5G networks will be established based on existing 4G infrastructures. SA refers to a subsequent step once the 5G coverage is established, which may be preferred by some enterprises wanting to go straight from 4G to standalone 5G. As a result, 4G will not be completely replaced by 5G anytime soon.

Most earlier trials and deployments of 5G uses a combination of 4G and 5G facilities to function. For example, the initial call and connection management for 5G devices is handled by the core 4G network and then switched over to 5G once the initial connection is made. Also, the data uploads on early 5G phones use a 4G LTE connection. So, the deployment of 5G is actually encouraging the upgrading of 4G networks to their most advanced versions. 

All in all, the coexistence of these networks can definitely bring more benefits, and 5G will not totally replace 4G or even 3G, at least for now.

Which industries do you think will see a significant transformation from 5G and IoT technology first?

There are many industry sectors to transformed by 5G and IoT technologies, such as intelligent transportation, smart city, health care, public safety, and intelligent agriculture.

Factories will be the sector that experience the most significant impact from the adoption of 5G and IoT technologies. Supporting effective machine communications could be extremely challenging for 4G. On one hand, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications — like communications between sensors and controllers — always require extremely low latency and high reliability. On the other hand, a massive number of machines and sensors could be involved for concurrent communications from a single industry process.

Fortunately, 5G networks can overcome these challenges by supporting massive machine-type communications (mMTC) and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC). The related 5G services can improve the operation of smart factories while bringing down production costs. 5G networks can greatly increase the productivity in smart factories, which will be one of the key transformations with 5G and IoT technology.

Nowadays, the manufacturing industry has taken steps to embrace the potential of 5G as a complement to their needs. Specifically, 5G technologies can realize the intelligent industry data collection, processing, and decision-making in a smart factory, and greatly improve the efficiency of production lines. Additionally, smart factories associated with 5G could enable remote and smart process configuration, intelligent operation, and machine control, which greatly relieve the workers from routine tasks in traditional factories.

How should enterprises prepare to adopt 5G securely, given the exponential growth of IoT and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices?

Nowadays, most of the R&D efforts on 5G are focused on the design of network architectures and communication technologies. However, with increased connectivity and data rates in future society, data security and privacy will provoke higher expectations both ordinary users as well as enterprises.

Specifically, the use of many low-end IoT devices will bring lots of security vulnerabilities due to their limited computation powers and battery capacities. However, simply replacing low-end IoT devices will definitely lead to dramatically increased deployment cost. To this end, enterprises are encouraged to strengthen existing network security by adopting intelligent security solutions, especially those based on real-time data analytics and risk mitigation techniques. For example, servers and access points can perform traffic monitoring, as well as intelligent device authentication, to detect and alleviate the possible security threats in a timely and intelligent manner.

It’s clear that many aspects of society are undergoing massive changes to adapt to 5G technology. What’s next?

The deployment of 5G technologies will bring many new business opportunities for the related stakeholders. As a completely new enabling platform, 5G has the potential of creating many new ecosystems, which rely on 5G capabilities for massive information gathering, new knowledge creation, and industry process automation.

On future vertical industries, many traditional industry processes will be transformed by 5G. For example, workers can operate robots remotely, where robots collaborate with each other to achieve highly efficient production. Additionally, the combination of 5G and IoT enables the intelligentization of different production lines, leading to significantly improved production efficiency.

For consumer related use cases, 5G technologies could integrate people’s virtual and real-life experiences through augmented and virtual reality applications, bringing great changes to the relationship between people and the outside world. Also, 5G technologies could improve safety, convenience, and entertainment. For instance, mobile health applications can be used to detect and analyze health-related data anytime and anywhere, providing individualized health care in real-time.

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