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Telecom

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06 Dec 2022

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to 5G Networks and Technologies

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Skill-Lync

The ARPANET was the first iteration of the technology known as the internet. Like most transformational inventions, it evolved beyond its initial use case. There are still enthusiastic discussions about why such a connected system was conceived and deployed—the threat of certain nuclear annihilation being one of them.   

But, whatever the reason might have been, the internet has fundamentally altered the definition of what it means to be human. Hindsight is always 20/20, and with the information, we now know, the creation of the internet was the only logical step forward in telecommunication. 

In this article, we look at the properties of Radio Frequency (RF) waves which lend themselves to seamless wireless connectivity. We explore an RF wave's various modulation features that enable data encoding. We examine the features of 5G that enable this wireless technology to affect societal transformation. 

A Brief History of Telecommunication

Communication has played an integral role in determining the survival of human beings. Since our ancestors began settling around river deltas and the lush, fertile plains of the Indus, the Euphrates, and the Nile, the need to communicate essential information with settlements farther away arose. For instance, transmitting crucial information in the shortest time became a life-and-death situation, whether it was the news of a pack of rabid wolves hunting close to the settlements or trespassing intruders. Smoke signals became one of our ancestors' first long-distance communication tools for our ancestors. The intensity of the smoke could be threaded together to form a cohesive message by the receiver who spotted it. Similar to how morse code messages came to be perceived in the 1830s. 

The fundamental basis of society revolves around the equal exchange of ideas. And societal transformations only occur when there is a mass propagation of new ideas. When primitive humans began to seed their roots into the soil and began to build civilisations, the thoughts of wise men and leaders were carried into the distant shores through clay tablets and then through papyrus and paper. Examples of which exist today, carefully preserved by ancient humans. As civilization evolved, so did the means of communication; the telegraph replaced paper as the medium for transferring information across vast ocean expanses. 

The evolution of the telegraph into radio waves is a watershed moment in advance of communication methods. But to understand how an invisible beam of energy can transmit information, we must first understand the ElectroMagnetic spectrum. 

Electromagnetic waves get split into five classes based on their wavelengths and frequencies.  

  1. Ionizing radiation: These are low wavelength EM waves with high frequency that can penetrate objects, including animal and plant cells. Common examples are X-rays and Gamma rays.
  2. Visible light:  All the colours of the rainbow fall under this category. 
  3. Infrared radiation: These EM waves help understand the movement of far-away celestial objects, night-vision goggles, and in weather forecasting. 
  4. Microwaves: These EM waves with a very short wavelength are used for transferring information, spacecraft communication, and in microwave ovens. 
  5. Radiowaves: These are EM waves with the highest wavelengths. They are the primary mode of communication in the 21st century. 

Of these five classes of electromagnetic radiations, radiowaves transfer data thanks to their unique modulation property. I.e., changing the frequency, amplitude, and phase of the radio wave. 

How Does 5G Work?

How Does 5G Work?

 

5G networks are the next iterations of global wireless broadband services. 5G technology follows the 4G technology, which succeeded 3G, which succeeded 2G before the wireless broadband technologies started with the first generation (1G) technologies. 5G networks boast speeds of up to or more than 1 Gbps, more than the 100 Mbps offered by the current generation 4G networks. 

But What Exactly Is Broadband?

Today long-distance data transmission occurs through fibre optic cables. These are long and thin cables designed from glasses or plastic. Data encoded in light pulses travel through these cables from origin to destination. 

Broadband connectivity refers to multiple light pulses that travel through a single optical cable, whereas baseband connectivity refers to only a single band of data pulses; a good example of the latter is home ethernet connections. 

A Simple Explanation of 5G Network Data Transfer and Wireless Communication

A Simple Explanation of 5G Network Data Transfer

India has 115 crore mobile users and 98% of which have access to cutting-edge 4G speeds. This massive proliferation of cheap and accessible 4G technology has led to the rise of an internet-based economy in India, leading to the growth of home-grown talents in comedy, cooking, reviews etc.

How have you ever wondered about the technology that helps you watch the latest video of your favourite creator as soon as it's uploaded?

To understand wireless communication, you must first internalize that data transmission occurs in the form of 1's and 0s, also known as bits. You also have to understand that these bits are transferred from one end of a node to the other in sinusoidal waves. Sinusoidal waves are continuous waves with a smooth periodic function with high point areas (crests) followed by low point areas (troughs). 

The height of the wave, as measured from the peak/crest to the horizontal axis, is known as the wave's amplitude or power. When a sine wave goes through one peak phase followed by a trough phase and back to a peak again is known as one complete cycle of the sine wave, also known as its frequency. Or put another way, the frequency of a sine wave is the number of times the wave repeats one complete cycle in a second. Therefore, a wave with a frequency of 1 MHz will pass through a fixed point in space 1000000 times in a second. 

The sine wave's phase defines a wave's location within a wave cycle and is represented as functions of radians or degrees. For instance, consider the start of a wave cycle as 0 degrees; every 90 degrees, the wave cycle moves forward half a wave, from trough to peak and from peak to trough again. 

As mentioned earlier, telecommunication networks modulate three wave functions to encode data. 

  1. Frequency modulation: The number of times a wave passes through a fixed time in a second. 
  2. Amplitude modulation: The strength of a wave at a fixed point in a given time. 
  3. Phase modulation: Encoding signal in the changing phases of a carrier wave. 

To better understand how these three factors enable data transmission, consider the example of a carrier containing both high frequency and low frequency. At a low frequency, the RF wave carries 0's, while at a higher frequency, it carries 1's. 

The application of a similar principle follows data transmission through amplitude modulation, where a higher amplitude corresponds to bits of 1's, and a lower amplitude corresponds to bits of 0's. 

In phase modulation, the sinewave is assigned bit values of 1 and 0 based on its change relative to the fixed horizontal lines along which the sine wave propagates. Currently, all wireless providers use a phase shift of 90 degrees allowing for four times the bit rate per modulation symbol, where the modulation symbol is one complete waveform. To increase the amount of data transferred per modulation symbol, data providers use a combination of both phase changes and amplitude, known as Quadrature Amplitude Modulation or QAM for short. 

To better visualize a QAM field, consider a reference plane split into four equal parts by an x-axis and y-axis. Now, plot 16 points on each plane, starting from the origin 0 and moving along the axes. You now have 64 unique points on a cartesian plane, each corresponding to a specific bitrate. This architecture is responsible for the increased data speed in a 5G network, which will only work near a radio tower due to its precise allotment. 

Any connection beyond which the sine wave from the radio tower does not reach the user leads to a lost connection. An increase in distance will drop the 5G network to a 16QAM connection, then to a Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK), and then to a Binary Phase Shift Keying (BPSK) connection. You can imagine each shift keying as the specified bits per modulation symbol, i.e. 2 bits per modulation symbol for BPSK and 4 bits per modulation symbol for QPSK, where one modulation is one complete wave cycle. 

What Is the Secret Behind a Continuous 5G Network?

While leaving your house, one day, you receive a call from your friend, and you talk to them while travelling to your destination. Have you ever wondered why you could take your friend's call from home to your destination without the call ever dropping? 

Telecommunication companies divide every geographical zone into hexagonal grids known as cells. These cells overlap and carry different frequency bands, so whenever you travel, your call is carried forward from one cell tower to another. But how does the new cell tower know to connect you with your friend? 

We should first discuss the Mobile Switching Centre (MSC) to understand this concept better. When you purchase and activate your sim card, your information gets stored in a large server called the MSC. For every user on Earth, their local MSC always connects with their mobile phones periodically to mark their location within the cell network. Therefore, in the above example, when your friend called you, their mobile phone converted their voice into a digital signal transferring it to their cell network. The cell network forwards the digital signal to the base MSC, which forwards the call towards your MSC. Your MSC then locates you based on the triangulation of your last location and connects you with your friends, all in real time. 

What Is the Advantage of 5G Technology?

Through several generations of wireless broadband connectivity protocols, from 1G to 4G, telecommunication companies have incorporated numerous multiple-access protocols. It is easy to connect two people using radio waves; from tin-can phones to walkie-talkies, humans excel at ways to connect two people. But, it starts to become difficult when there are millions of users using the same infrastructure to communicate at the same time. This is because there is only a narrow band of commercially viable radio wavelengths. 

These include Time Division Multiple Access (users divided into time-coded slots) and Code Division Multiple Access (individual users assigned spreading codes reducing the strain on the network and increasing capacity). 

The introduction of 5G New Radio (NR) networks uses the building blocks of the previous generations to create a network of connections much larger than the preceding generations. The principle behind this increase in capacity is Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and Non-Orthogonal Frequency Multiplexing (NOMA). To better understand OFDM, you should first understand the principles behind Frequency Division Multiplexing (FDM), of which OFDM is a part. 

Consider a pipe carrying water; this pipe can only carry one liquid of a single variety at any time. But if we were to introduce different compartments within this pipe, the pipe could carry liquids of different viscosities. This is the crudest explanation for understanding FDM, in which multiple users can use the same network bandwidth when divided into multiple non-competing sub-channels. 

OFDM is a protocol in which the alignment of sub-channels in FDM has no gap between them, and they overlap with each other. But, these sub-channels do not cause interference because when one wave is at its peak, the other waves sharing the same broadband are at null. OFDM is why 5G networks can support their massive user bases. 

NOMA is another feature of 5G networks that allows for better connectivity and increases download speeds. As mentioned, the cells will resemble a 64-QAM constellation of connections in high-density areas, with each point on the constellation representing a factor of the amplitude and the phase shift. 

Consider two operations connected to a single 5G network; a user downloading a web series at 1080p and an IoT device that transmits a few megabits every second. According to OFDMA, these signals use the same pipeline but are separate from each other and do not cause interference. NOMA is a feature of 5G networks that further expounds on this principle. If the second signal were closer than the first signal, chances are it would receive a better share of the bandwidth thanks to its proximity. But that would be an improper allocation of available resources. The NOMA feature of 5G technology detects and decodes the subsequent signal first and cancels it out through Signal Interference Cancellation (SIC). This allows telecommunication companies to send out multiple signals using the same transmission by varying the power. These protocols allow for better appropriation of bandwidth according to the user's requirement. 

Features of 5G Technology

Features of 5G Technology

Millimetre waves

5G operates in two distinct frequency bands; the sub-6 GHz band known as Frequency Range 1 (FR1) and the Frequency Range 2 (FR2) band, which covers frequency bands between 24 GHz and 71 GHz. The Radio Waves in the FR2 band are known as millimetre waves due to their high frequency and shorter wavelength. The higher frequency allows millimetre waves to carry more data than previous RF waves. Frequency is inversely proportional to the size of an antenna – the higher the frequency, the smaller the antenna. 

Massive Input Massive Output (MIMO) Small Cell Clusters

To improve the connectivity of a 5G network, telecommunication companies build smaller cell clusters that connect the user to the base cell tower. The smaller scale of antennae used in a 5G network allows for installing more antennas within a single cell tower, vastly increasing the numbers of concurrent users while maintaining an improvement in the QoS and data speeds. But, one disadvantage of a millimetre wave is its increased tendency to get obstructed by the environment. Millimetre waves cannot pierce through solid objects like buildings and trees and will get absorbed by environmental factors like rain. 

Beamforming

Before 5G, the transmission of an RF signal covered a large and wide area. But, 5G millimetre waves, due to its property, can only propagate to a short, fixed distance from the transmission tower. One of the properties of a 5G network that helps reduce energy consumption while increasing network connectivity is known as beamforming. The cell tower triangulates the user's location and focuses the signal to find the least obstructive path to the user. This is one of the features of 5G technology that enables its use in the aviation industry. We've covered that topic in an article here. 

Low-Latency Connectivity

Latency is the time delay between a data packet's origin and reception. The latency of a network affects its performance, with high latency rendering any real-time operation unfeasible. One of the ways 5G enables real-time IoT-enabled technologies is through multi-access edge computing. In this, the cloud-based application is brought to a physical server close to the user, reducing the inherent latency in all computing applications.

The Future of 5G

The Future of 5G

Deployment of 5G-enabled services allows for a massive scale-up of cloud-based technologies. 5G networks allow for rapidly adopting technologies like Network Function Virtualization, Software Defined Networking, Device-to-Device communications, and others. 

The Indian government expects that the roll-out of 5G will lead to the creation of 80,000 direct jobs and an investment of ₹3,00,000 crore. To further the adoption of new-age technologies in the country, the government of India has released a draft version of the Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, which aims to improve investments in India's nascent 5G network. 

The adoption of 5G will also improve the standard of healthcare in the country by creating learning opportunities in the cloud and reducing the time needed for diagnosis at rural centres; read more about it here. Alongside healthcare, 5G will also improve the quality of air travel by reducing the long lines at the check-in counter and introducing reliable and cheaper internet in the air. Read more about how 5G is transforming aviation here

The roll-out of 5G and 5G-abled services has already started to affect how companies recruit talent. Industries require engineers with demonstrable experience with various 5G software and hardware tools. And the only way to gain this experience is through industry-oriented projects that simulate real-world problems that 5G telecommunication engineers are currently working on. 

We have designed and developed Skill-Lync's certified PG program in 5G Network Design and Development with assistance from industry experts. In this program, students will analyze 5G networks as a collection of radio, core & cloud networks and gain an understanding of 5G from a development perspective. You will learn to simulate 5G NR, 5G core and Telco Cloud workloads with hands-on training in software tools. 

Schedule a free counseling session today to learn more about how our 5G program can help you reach your 5G dreams. 


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Anup KumarH S


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