The evolution of wireless technologies has been going at a steady pace. Two technologies have been dominating the market for more than two decades. The advent of GSM or 2G as it is widely known, has allowed true mobile communications that culminated with the latest 5G evolution, while the Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) standard has brought mobile internet connectivity to the premises. In the technical circles, 2G and its subsequent evolutions are classified as a wide area network (WAN) technologies while Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network (WLAN) technology. The differentiation comes from the coverage range of each. The latest 5G standard has brought versatility to cellular technologies. People have been asking whether Wi-Fi should still exist with the increasing 5G availability. In the battle of 5G vs. Wi-Fi, are these technologies considered as friends or foes?
What are the Differences Between 5G and Wi-Fi?
Although they share many similarities, notably in terms of performance, 5G and Wi-Fi are basically two separate worlds. The philosophy surrounding their implementation and deployment is largely different.
5G vs. Wi-Fi: Installation and Ease of Use
The difficulty in deploying these two technologies is where the difference is actually the largest in the 5G vs. Wi-Fi battle. Akin to other previous cellular technologies, the deployment of 5G networks goes through a meticulous process including the optimized planning of the network, and deployment of the planned cell-sites and other associated components. The resulting capital expenditures are significant due to the cost of purchasing the components and erecting the different cell-sites. The subsequent maintenance and upgrade costs add to the existing bill. To compensate for the costs, operators work on paid subscriptions, and other attractive services to keep their profits on the positive side.
On the other hand, Wi-Fi requires a much lower cost to deploy. All what is needed is to decide where access points are to be installed and how many of those are needed. Once acquired, the Wi-Fi network can be connected to the Internet backbone to establish end-to-end connectivity. It is worth noting that the cost of wireless access point is significantly cheaper than that an erected cell-site.
5G vs. Wi-Fi: Frequency of Operation
This is another large difference between the two technologies. 5G networks normally operate on licensed spectrum, with the exception of the CBRS band which has been recently used in the USA for private networks. This means that network operators need to go through auctions to acquire expensive licenses to run their network. The licenses fees also depend on the band of operation for the 5G network.
Wi-Fi however uses unlicensed spectrum for operation, namely in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. From a wireless propagation perspective, the 2.4 GHz allows a wider range of operation at the expense of much lower speeds. The new Wi-Fi 6E standard should allow additional bandwidth in the 6 GHz band which should boost the perceived performance from Wi-Fi transmission.
5G vs. Wi-Fi: Range and Performance
5G clearly stand out in terms of the range of operation. The use of hundreds of geographically distributed cell-sites and the flexibility in selecting several bands of operations allow 5G networks to be accurately dimensioned for certain coverage targets. Wi-Fi networks on another side are limited to several hundreds of meters in range, depending on the frequency of operation (lower band) and transmission power (higher).
With the latest Wi-Fi 6/6E release and the nearing Wi-Fi 7 announcement, the performance of Wi-Fi is on par with 5G networks, if not better in some cases. The fact that the Wi-Fi network is connected through fiber optics to the backbone with the users normally very close to the access point, allows consistently high-performance guarantees. 5G networks from the other side suffer from the classical cellular connectivity problems. As the subscribers get farther from the cell-site, the performance drops due to the signal attenuation resulting from the increasing distance and user mobility.
Wi-Fi 6 vs. Private 5G Networks
The emerging topic of private 5G networks has pushed many to question the need for Wi-Fi networks. With private networks, enterprises and other small institutions can have a secure environment where high quality connectivity is guaranteed, and several additional use cases can even be created. The cheaper Wi-Fi network can theoretically be used to achieve the same task, expect for the lack of a seamless connection to the external networks.
In a sense, private networks have been a competitor in Wi-Fi’s territory as it was the first 5G local area network (LAN) solution, invading a category where Wi-Fi has long been the undisputable leader.
Towards Tighter Cooperation?
5G and Wi-Fi shouldn’t be seen as enemies or foes, but rather as complementary technologies. The benefits of employing both technologies at the same time are numerous. Traffic offloading is one important application for a concurrent technology use. As data services are pricey on cellular 5G networks, offloading tasks when a Wi-Fi connection is available could save the subscriber a lot of money. The existence of a Wi-Fi network provides load balancing opportunities as the processing can be shared between the 5G and Wi-Fi networks. For instance, in the context of private LANs, local processing could be done through the Wi-Fi network while the 5G link can be used to connect different entities within the premises and maintain a connection with the external public 5G network.
Remember the Samsung Galaxy S5 from 2014? It featured a download booster feature that combines LTE connections with the local Wi-Fi connection to boost the download speed. The impressive 5G and Wi-Fi performance guarantees can even make the user experience even better.
5G and Wi-Fi are two technologies that are so different than each other, yet they complement one another perfectly well. Looking at them as competitors is undermining to their inherent properties as each has been conceived to achieve specific goals which do not necessarily align. The controversy stirred by the emergence of private networks is certainly not enough to question the role played by Wi-Fi network. The prospective advent of Wi-Fi 7 will foster the role played by the LAN technology in synergy with the wider range 5G networks.
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5G Use Cases in Education: Breaking the Barriers in Online Leaning
The recent coronavirus pandemic has been a big challenge for different sectors worldwide. The health industry has been put to the limelight due the large number of casualties and the inability of healthcare systems to ramp up their resources to face the rapidly escalating situation. In the background, the pandemic tested the readiness of various sectors in facing a sudden event. The evident answer was that no one was even close to being prepared for the unforeseen disastrous results of the sanitary events. Instead, the period has been governed by experimenting, learning, upgrading, and innovating, a cycle that has been ongoing, even when the repercussions of the pandemic subsided.
The pandemic was in particular severely testing for the educational sector. Millions of students suddenly found themselves away from the classroom, with no proper plan on how to proceed with their curricula. The first and obvious resort was technology and over the top (OTT) applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and Google Meet. Online learning platforms alleviated the burden on the educational system but at the same time highlighted the inadequacy of the existing telecom infrastructure to support a large surge in the number of users while satisfying minimum quality of service requirements. While operators worked heavily on upgrading their infrastructure, even in the middle of the pandemic, 5G use cases have emerged as lifesavers for the education sector. Not only this, but the pandemic also coincided with a worldly drive to deploy the latest technology on top of the existing 4G network.
Why 5G Can Be the Difference-Maker in Education?
Three main keywords favor the ranking of 5G as a difference-maker in the education sector: bandwidth, latency, and security. The new wireless standard has been conceived for flexibility in terms of the deployment strategy (non-standalone vs. standalone), bands of operations, and customization in terms of the implemented virtualized functions. On top of that, security policies have been notably enforced with the latest generation in mobile communications. As the role of telecommunications is primordial in education, 5G can be the solution to iron out some of the hiccups in educational content delivery. As a simple example, low 5G bands can be used to ensure proper coverage and guarantee education for most students, higher bands can be used in some places to enrich the digital experience bringing education as close as possible to the physical one.
What Are Applications Of 5G Technology in Education?
While 5G could secure the proper infrastructure for an adequate education experience, the applications of 5G in education go beyond communication service provision. The combination of advanced transmission capabilities, improved security and increasing edge computing availability unlocks different possibilities to enrich the learning experience.
Probably the most thought of feature is the inclusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and extended reality in the learning process. AI in education brings schools to the digital age enabling smart content, tailored learning experiences, and improved class management. The use of speech recognition can further enrich the learning process.
The incorporation of extended reality, including virtual and augmented reality is key to address of the main limitations of distant learning, practical work. While most of the learning outcomes can be met through appropriate content delivery, practical work such a laboratory experiments and in-class projects is hard to deliver as the needed equipment and resources are only available in the school premises. Augmented reality can help the student manipulate equipment and interact with elements of the class in a way they could not achieve with traditional online learning platforms.
Extended reality also provides the student with an immersive learning experience. Instead of suffering from the psychological effects of sitting alone for long hours behind a computer screen, the student can be submerged in a real classroom experience where he can interact with his classmates, school/university instructor, and other elements in the classroom.
Challenges And Warnings for The Use Of 5G In Education
The typical cybersecurity threats that jeopardize any online service apply as well to 5G-based educational systems. During the latest pandemic, a large number of attacks, notably ransomware have been reported on different institutions around the world. These attacks are certainly not inherent to 5G systems but are important factors that should be catered for. The emergent usage of 5G private networking could be one solution where institutions can deploy their networks with customized reliability and security policies.
The proliferation of 5G-based education can also have an adverse effect in deepening the inequalities between countries. The quality of the education would then depend on the availability or not of 5G services in a given country.
Finally, educational methods relying on 5G shouldn’t be considered as the norm. What applies to a country and to an educational institution therein does not necessarily apply in another context?
The pandemic taught use the hard way that disruptions in any sector can be very costly, and even harder to fix. The educational sector suffered considerably from the effects of the pandemic, notably in terms of the availability and quality of education. At the same time, 5G networks were slowly expanding throughput the world. What has been damaged by the pandemic can partly be fixed using 5G systems. The technologies accompanying 5G systems provide several use cases for education, notably through the use of extended reality to provide an immersive educational experience. As with any technology, new learning paradigms shouldn’t be considered as a standard, thus emphasizing inequalities among countries.
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What Does 5G UC Mean on Android?
5G is the hype of the moment, not only among operators but also among big tech companies, industries, and governmental organizations. The sign displayed on any device lets users know that they are on T-Mobile’s 5G UC network instead of the regular 5G network.
Last year, T-Mobile rolled out its 5G UC network aiming to cover more than 200 million people in the U.S. as part of its plans to deliver faster cellular connectivity to more Americans. 5G UC android is available to iPhone and Android users on the T-Mobile network and can be determined by a ‘5G UC’ sign in the status bar on smartphones.
Earlier this year, T-Mobile USA announced a 5G milestone as they’ve reached 200 million people with their “5G Ultra Capacity” service.
This is T-Mobile’s fastest-available 5G coverage, and it’s effectively unique to this carrier.
A few years back, the fifth-generation technology was deployed in the U.S. With some of the biggest carriers in the market with 5G networks covering most of the country’s population. While it was limited to select metropolitan areas in the initial phase, it mostly covers various parts of the country.
A few months after its appearance on iPhones early 2021, the 5G UC icon appears on many Android phones.
5G UC Android Meaning
5G UC refers to customers connected to a 5G network, which is only shown on Android phones with 5G support with smartphones or iPhones, like iPhones 12 and 13. This means that 5G UC users are connected to mid-band or millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G; for T-Mobile, it is more likely related to mid-band, as this drives up the majority of telecom operators’ faster 5G network.
When it comes to the network’s mmWave, it is perceived as the fastest 5G band commercially available, but it’s found in a few locations, and uses a higher frequency than prior cellular networks and allows blazing-fast connections.
This new network will only appear if you are a T-Mobile customer and notice a new “5G UC” icon in people’s Androids phones status bar. The 5G UC icon is shown when a customer is connected to T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G network. The president of technology at T-Mobile, Neville Ray, said the carrier’s customers will sometimes see “5G UC,” which means they are in an area with fast speeds with “Ultra Capacity 5G.”
As telcos roll out more extensive improvements that bring meaningful speed and latency increases, they’re caught in a crossfire: regular “5G” is too weak of a brand to impact. Nowadays, telecom operators are competing to get the best fifth generation technology on their phones to serve clients as efficiently as possible.
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What are 5G Bands? Why the Future Holds High Promises?
5G has become a key player in the telecom circles. The impact of the new wireless tech far exceeds its notable technical capabilities. It has rather emerged as disruptive to most industries and businesses. The opportunities it unlocked in terms of automation, private networking, and numerous B2B applications have resulted in a fast development among operators, aiming at improving the maturity of their network, implementing the iterations of the standard and thus providing distinctive services that will drive their revenues and increase their market shares.
The importance of frequency bands and their impact on the operation of wireless networks have increased in magnitude with the advent of the new standard. The variation in the bands of operation traditionally related to capacity and coverage requirements. The new generation has transformed them into key enablers of novel use cases and applications. Operators no longer just look for extra bandwidth, but rather pay careful attention to where that band is situated in the spectrum. The premium pricing during license allocation is even different for the various portions of the RF spectrum.
The Low, Mid and High Bands: What is it All About?
Low-bands and Coverage Guarantees
Remember the good old GSM network with sparsely placed cell towers. Well such deployment scenarios can be replicated with 5G networks operating in the low-band that is with frequencies below 1 GHz. The coverage layer as it is sometimes referred to allows 5G networks to cover large areas as electromagnetic signals can propagate to larger distances without being significantly attenuated. The downside about using 5G in these bands is that user experience will not be much better than the typical 4G network. However, this band is significantly important to meet coverage requirements in next generation networks.
The advantage of such bands can come from the deployment of wide-scale internet of things (IoT) applications such as in smart agriculture. The connected devices can be separated by large distances without any loss in connectivity. Adequate latencies can be maintained, but not to the extent of implementing time-critical applications.
Mid-band – the Best of All Worlds
The mid-band spectrum is undoubtedly the way to go for initial 5G deployments around the world. When the 5G UC logo appeared for T-Mobile subscribers in the USA, people starting questioning what this may mean. The “Ultra Capacity” connotation gives an indication about the bouquet of possibilities provided by this band of operation. Compared to lower bands, frequencies in the 1 GHz – 6GHz offer a notably lower coverage area. As frequencies increase, the attenuation of signals become more pronounced and therefore these cannot reach big distance with an acceptable quality. On the other side, higher frequencies are equivalent to larger bandwidths. As a direct consequence, more subscriber capacity can be guaranteed. But not only this, lower latencies and higher data rates can be achieved.
This is basically the reason why operators rushed to use the mid-band first. Most existing 5G networks operating at 3.5 GHz are capable of delivering the promised services for the connected subscribers, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services, ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine type communications (mMTC). eMBB solutions rely on high upload and download speeds to enable new use cases such as augmented and virtual reality. URLLC is essential in automation, autonomous vehicles, remote robots and drones. mMTC brings IoT solution to different industries and is a central element in the development of smart cities.
As 5G networks are expanding at a relatively fast pace, additional bands are being exploited, notably in the C-band. When Verizon and AT&T decided to switch on their 5G towers using the C-band earlier this year, several airlines decided to halt their flights to the USA in fear that the 5G network will interfere with altimeters operating in the same band. This small incident highlights an important issue with the mid-band in general. Many technologies including Wi-Fi and satellites are actually operating in the same band. A careful resource allocation is therefore needed to ensure that interference will not be a problem in the future and the safe coexistence of these technologies is guaranteed.
Another recent event in mid-band 5G systems relates to citizens broadband radio services (CBRS) band between 3.55 and 3.7 GHz. Part of the CBRS spectrum has recently become available for general authorized access. This announcement will fuel the emergence of private 5G networks allowing companies, enterprises to develop, deploy and customize their own 5G networks. Tech companies such as Amazon have entered the 5G market offering private networks as a service.
High bands – Incredible Promises and Skepticism
When 5G was marketed around the world, millimeter wave (mmWave) was a essential feature of the product. What is offered in theory is hard to implement in practice. Going to significantly high frequencies in excess of 20 GHz offers incredible features for operators. Hundreds of MHz of bandwidth are available to support an exceptionally high capacity and achieve higher download speeds and much lower latencies. The dark side about this region of operation is that signals become vulnerable to adverse wireless propagation effects. They become easily blocked and attenuated by environmental entities such as rain and atmospheric oxygen molecules. The coverage in such bands become incredibly small making deployment practically impossible especially in urban areas. This technology can be used however to provide superior services in hotspots or even indoors through dedicated small cells. A wider deployment would require an incredibly dense deployment with advanced processing techniques to maintain mobile user connectivity. If you have serious radiophobia, it is better not to think of this scenario!!
Tapping into higher bands also permits the delivery of next-level fixed wireless access (FWA) connectivity bringing ultra-high speed broadband services to subscribers. With this opportunity, operators become true internet service providers, competing with other internet service providers that use DSL, fiber or cable technologies. FWA services in the mid and high bands has become an integral part of operators’ offering around the world, increasingly attracting users.
If the viability of high-band 5G operations stirred enough controversy and skepticism, the use of Terahertz frequencies in the upcoming sixth generation will certainly crank it up a level.
The presence of different bands with various capabilities is certainly a big advantage for 5G networks. Future deployments will certainly involve a concurrent presence of three layers each with a different band of operation. Operators can then tailor their network configuration to meet performance and coverage requirements while providing service differentiation. While the bulk of the operations will remain in the mid-band, lower bands will be used for coverage requirements, while higher bands would be the cherry on the cake with notable performance guarantees.
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