There is much hype around the globe regarding all the incredible things 5G users would soon witness & enjoy. This next generation of wireless network is all set to revolutionize our lifestyle, promising not just massive exchange of data at extremely high speed, but also enabling technologies like self driving cars, telemedicine and virtual reality completely altering our day-to-day lives.
However, all these tall claims must be taken with a pinch of salt. Although plenty of research work and testing has been going on for quite a while with the likes of big giants including Samsung Electronics, Ericsson, Huawei leading the way, the pace at which these networks are being deployed is not as fast as it should be. Some reluctance has been witnessed on the part of big companies like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile when it comes to actual wide scale implementation of 5G networks.
So what are the key challenges slowing down the pace of 5G adoption.
The list below provides some of few major impediments to 5G rush.
- Coverage Range
The foremost challenge is the high bandwidth of 5G channel at the expense of accessibility. Owing to the use of very high frequencies by 5G networks, immense benefits of high data rate and low latency are being promised, accommodating 10 fold more traffic compared to 4G. But there is a caveat. The very same high frequencies suffer much higher attenuation when propagating through free space limiting the physical range that it can travel. And they are much more easily blocked by buildings and trees and therefore suffer very high loss compared to 4G. Thus, on one hand where high frequency usage claims to accommodate higher number of user terminals compared to 4G, the high attenuation loss limits the coverage area resulting in much lower number of user terminals that can be actually accessed.
In order to make 5G more accessible many new towers with many antenna elements would need to be constructed. Also the deployment of thousands of small cells across the nation cannot be rolled out overnight. Both of these factors require extensive planning and limit the pace of implementation.
- Regulatory challenges
5G can only be utilized to its maximum potential if all the regional parties are on one page.
For establishing each new base station, stationing of associated hardware from tower, to antenna to its wiring needs to be done. However, lack of proper knowledge on the part of administration makes their deployment process much slower. Following is a list of municipal challenges faced in the adoption of 5G:
- City regulators have not been vigilant in keeping up with the telecom providers to install 5G. Their roll out procedures and processes take too long for approval
- Municipality regulations include high fees, aesthetic concerns regarding the deployment of 5G hardware, zoning policies all add to long time and slow spread.
- Public Health concerns regarding the safety of 5G waves since this network makes use of entirely different set of frequencies than previously being used.
Without the acceptance of relevant jurisdictions 5G roll out would not be done in a timely manner.
The technology and its related test & measurements procedures, equipment etc is still in its development stages. Like all developing technologies, 5G cannot be made available without passing through proper validation protocols. Although major mobile phone operators around the world have been carrying out both indoor and outdoor testing, depending upon unique challenges posed by regional channel propagation models etc. Regardless, a company cannot simply deploy a network without following through rigorous test conditions which is a time consuming process.
- Spectrum Purchasing
The network operators willing to deploy 5G and operate their networks on certain frequencies cannot simply do so by adopting relevant technologies. Rather, they have to buy a license from regulators e.g. FCC in United States.
The regulators before authorizing a license have to make sure that the frequency spectrum being allocated to the mobile telecommunication operator does not in any way interfere with other frequencies being used for applications other than telecommunications for example weather radars. Though on surface these points may sound simple, but in practice this is a tedious procedure that can even take years to be completed.
- Absence of 5G Phones in Market
One of the pertinent factors proving to be a major impediment to wide scale deployment is the absence of 5G phones in market. Manufacturers have not yet released their fully 5G compatible hand phones in the market yet. Although, both network deployment and phone release should go hand in hand, nonetheless the absence of phones automatically slows down the scale of 5G rapid deployment.
Perhaps the biggest factor of them all is the associated expense. Network operators cannot just deploy 5G, there is tremendous investment involved to make sure that all the benefits associated with 5G are provided to each of the subscribers. There is massive capital investment required in the following areas
- Licensing of Spectrum
- Hardware Costs including towers, antennas, front ends etc.
- Hiring Technicians for Instalment of Networks
- Testing of Networks
- To pay deployment fees to the local Municipality
The absence of any of the above discussed factors would slow down the laying down of 5G networks. Simultaneous planning and meticulous working would be required from the various players involved in the 5G adoption hierarchy, which would accelerate the proliferation of 5G networks.