5G Is Software

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Early deployments of 5G, the fifth generation of telecommunications technologies, are underway across the globe, and analysts estimate that 5G will lead to massive economic growth. In the United States, that growth is expected to create up to three million new jobs and an additional $500 billion in the US gross domestic product. Those estimates jump to $12.3 trillion in sales activity globally across sectors supporting up to 22 million global jobs by 2035. Thus, government and industry officials face tremendous pressure for the United States to quickly become a global leader in 5G technology in the face offormidable competition from other nations eager to capitalize on 5G’s potential.

How exactly will 5G be so transformative? A good place to begin is with what 5G is not. It is not simply the newer, speedier version of the traditional wireless networks that today’s smartphone users are already familiar with. In fact, it is important for policymakers and the public to understand that 5G will be so much more than “the next 4G.” And software is key to that difference.

In This Report…

This paper serves as an introduction to emerging 5G technologies and the underlying software powering next generation wireless networks. It will address the following frequently asked questions confronting US policymakers, industry stakeholders, and concerned citizens:

  • What exactly is 5G? How does 5G differ from the previous generations of wireless? What are
    some of the new software technologies making 5G networks possible?
  • How significant will the change be from the current 3G and 4G-LTE networks to 5G? What
    will the deployment of 5G technologies bring to consumers and the economy?
  • What should policymakers at all levels of government be thinking about in preparation for
    the expansion of 5G networks nationwide?

5G Basics: How Does It Work?

Developers of 5G forecast that in time their networks will offer even faster speeds, higher data capacity, lower end-to-end latency, and more network reliability than today’s 4G networks. The chart below compares 5G network performance to earlier wireless generations.

Comparing 5G Network Performance to Earlier Wireless Generations

5G Network Architecture

Traditionally physical network hardware components for the 5G Core Network, such as servers, switches, and storage, will be offloaded entirely to the cloud and orchestrated in a virtual environment through intelligent software tools. The following diagram demonstrates how everyday consumer devices—such as a smartphone, smart sensor, or connected automobile — cannot connect directly to the 5G Core Network on their own. In order to reach the 5G Core Network, User Equipment must first connect through 5G-enabled equipment on the Radio Access Network (such as a cell tower or small cell array) that will route traffic to the network core and the internet.

End-to-End Overview of the 5G Network Architecture

Projected 5G Use Cases

A 2019 study found that 84 percent of key decision makers across various industries believed that 5G networks will be transformative and have a lasting effect on the way companies do business. It is difficult to predict the exact long-term consumer applications of 5G, but its unique benefits already are being touted in some areas as represented in the following diagram.

5G Features Fuel Next-Gen Applications
5G Features Fuel Next-Gen Applications

Public Policy Challenges to Address

We are only at the very beginning of the 5G transformation, but it is imperative for policymakers, service providers, business leaders, and other stakeholders to enact forward thinking policies that will secure the United States as a global leader in 5G.

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