5G technology promises to deliver faster data speeds, lower latency and higher capacity than previous generations of cellular networks. But to fully realise its potential, 5G requires comple­me­ntary technologies that work alongside to enhance its capabilities and enable new applications.

One of the main challenges with 5G is that it operates on higher frequency bands that have shorter ranges, which could lead to poor signal strength and coverage. To address this, complementary technologies such as edge computing, network slicing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and internet of things (IoT) can be utilised to support new applications and services that require high speed, low latency connectivity. Each of these technologies has its own set of use cases, which are also inextricably connected to one another. For example, edge computing can reduce latency by processing data closer to the end-user while network slicing allows for the creation of virtual network slices that can be tailored to specific use cases. Both technologies enable the efficient use of network resources and support a range of applications.

A look at some of the complementary techno­lo­gies for 5G networks…

  • Edge computing: It reduces the time it takes to process and analyse data, thereby improving the performance of 5G networks. Moving the compute power from a device to the network edge will help industries reimagine user experiences. For instance, the automotive in­dustry can help customers shop for a car by scanning a QR code on their phone to see the augmented reality (AR) model of the car in front of them, virtually pla­ced on their own driveway or any open space. In addition, edge computing can be used to support telemedicine applications, allowing doctors and patients to communicate in real time. By processing data at the edge, 5G networks can support applications that require low latency and high reliability. For example, ed­ge computing can be used to support re­mote diagnostics, tele-surgery and re­mo­te monitoring of patients.
  • Small cells: They are also important complementary technologies that work alongside 5G to improve network capacity and coverage. They are deployed in high-traffic areas to help offload traffic from the main cell tower, improving net­work performance and capacity. Small cells can be used to provide indoor coverage in buildings such as airports, shopping malls and offices. By using small cells, 5G networks can provide be­tter co­ve­rage and higher data rates than traditional macrocells. They can also provide coverage on public transport such as buses and trains. This can im­pro­ve the us­er experience for commu­ters who want to stay connected while on the move. By using small cells, 5G networks can provide coverage in remote areas as well and help bridge the digital divide.
  • NFV: Network function virtualisation (NFV) enables network functions to be virtualised and run on standard servers, making it easier to deploy and manage network functions while reducing costs. NFV complements 5G by making it easier to deploy and manage the various net­work functions required to support 5G networks. It can help reduce the cost and complexity of deploying and managing network functions. By virtualising network functions and running them on standard servers, operators can reduce hardware costs, deploy new services fas­ter, and scale up network resources more efficiently and on demand.
  • SDN: Software-defined networking (SDN) and NFV are complementary te­chnologies that can help enable and support the deployment and operation of 5G networks by providing the flexibility, agility and scalability needed to meet the diverse requirements of new and emerging applications and services. SDN is a network architecture approa­ch that separates the control plane from the data pla­ne, enabling centralised network ma­nagement and control. This ar­chitecture aligns well with the 5G network’s separation of hardware and software components. SDN is used to implement network slicing, which is a crucial feature of 5G networks. Net­wo­rk slicing allows network operators to partition their network into multiple virtual networks, each tailored to a specific use case or customer. SDN enables centralised control of network slicing, making it easier to provision, manage and optimise these virtual networks. SDN enables operators to quickly res­po­nd to changing traffic patterns and optimise network resources.
  • IoT: This is another complementary te­chnology that 5G can support, enabling the massive amount of data generated by IoT devices and providing the necessary bandwidth and speed for them to communicate with each other and the internet. Meanwhile, IoT can support 5G by providing new use cases and applications that leverage the capabilities of 5G networks, generating valuable data for network management and optimisation, and enhancing user experience. By leveraging IoT, 5G can deliver ground-breaking solutions, such as billions of connected devices that gather and share information in real time to reduce road accidents, life-saving applications due to lag-free guaranteed connections, and predictive production lines that can prevent interruptions well before they occur. 5G is driving a faster, safer, more accessible and more secure driverless future with the help of IoT.
  • AI: As networks get complex, AI/ML will be key in managing that complexity. AI and 5G are tra­nsformative technologies that work well together, enabling new use cases. 5G provides the powerful, reliable connecti­vity that is crucial for maximising the in­telligence and responsiveness of AI across all network layers and client devices. It is expected that AI assistants will only get faster, more responsive and more powerful with the low latency and high speed of 5G. Meanwhile, AI can help 5G minimise the amount of data that is generated by client devices so that they only send pertinent data back to the cloud. For instance, the ability to stream high-quality content is a 5G use case. When combined with AI-enhanced eye-tracking, it can reduce the rendering workload while also lowering the str­ea­ming bandwidth. This can improve performance while also maintaining the overall streaming quality.
  • Blockchain: 5G and blockchain can work together in the supply chain, transportation and logistics, retail, automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, constr­uc­tion, government, energy and utility sectors, among others. In logistics, co­ns­umers and businesses will be able to track the exact location in real time with 5G and blockchain. “While 5G would help India adopt and operate blockchain technology faster, blockchain will play a critical role in ensuring user privacy and security across the telecom spectrum,” says Vikram R. Singh, founder and chief executive officer of blockchain development company, Antier.
  • Automation: Automation is a complementary technology for 5G networks that can significantly enhance the efficiency, agility and security of network op­erations, service delivery and maintenance. 5G’s flexibility and programmability make it well suited for automation. With its open and service-based ar­chitecture, it is possible to automate ma­ny aspects of network management, fr­om provisioning and configuration to troubleshooting and optimisation. By automating routine tasks and enabling dynamic allocation of network resourc­es, operators can deliver high quality, low latency and reliable services over 5G net­works, while reducing the cost and complexity of network operations.

Overall, complementary technologies play a critical role in unlocking the full po­tential of 5G. They enable new use ca­ses and provide a superior user experience. By utilising these technologies, 5G networks can fulfil the promise of faster, more reliable connectivity for the next generation of mobile applications and services. One of the primary advantages of 5G is its open and flexible architecture, which stems from its service-based approach and the separation of hardware and software co­mponents. This openness and programmability enable unprecedented collaboration.

We have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to leveraging the synergies of these technologies. Many futuristic applications are still in development and are expected to be introduced in due course.

Sugandha Khurana