The essay scrutinized 5G technology, it’s opportunities and Challenges. It explained what 5G technology is, applications, highlighted the economic advantages and factors stalling deployment. The essayist also made references to publications consulted during the course of writing.
An average Nigerian probably first heard about the 5G technology during the start of the first wave of the CoronaVirus Pandemic. The conspiracy theory that the 5G radiation sparked the pandemic has been refuted by scientists around the world. It is a relatively new global wireless standard after 1G,2G,3G and 4G networks. Large scale adoption began in 2019 and today virtually every telecommunication service provider in the developed economies is upgrading its infrastructure to offer 5G functionality. They are ultra and super high radio frequencies of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum.
The 5G band is categorized into three; low-band (3GHz to sub.6GHz), mid-band (6Hz to sub.24Hz), and the millimeter waves 24GHz to about 100GHz (ScienceDirect,Sept.2019). Nwachukwu (2021) posits that the National Communication Commission has reserved 26GHz, 38GHz, and 48GHz spectrums to be allocated for 5G in the country. These bands fall under non-ionisable radiations of EM waves which do not cause any health damage as opposed to ionizable radiations like X-rays, gamma rays, Alpha/ beta and neutrons according to Public Health England.
What Does 5G Bring to the Table?
To understand what 5G brings to the table it is helpful to know what came before it. Broadly, the first generation of mobile technology,1G, ushered in the ability to use a phone in a car, or anywhere else. The advent of 2G introduced a short messaging layer of not more than 64 characters; a piece of which can still be seen in today’s texting features. The move to 3G clamors for more data as mobile internet with smart phones took root here. What we now consider a “slow” network in many municipalities was the height of technology until 4G came along. 4G/4G LTE with a blazing data-transfer rate was able to support high definition mobile TV, video conferencing and much more in today’s mobile services.
As more people need access to cellular networks as the Internet of Things expands, as many as 24 billions devices are expected to need cellular network support by 2024 as reported by Verizon News. That’s where 5G comes in. Broadly, 5G brings three new items to the table: wider channels (speed), lower latency (responsiveness), and more bandwidth (the ability to connect to a lot more devices at once).
Objects like cars, watches, thermostats, Sunglasses etc now rely on the internet to gather, transmit and share data. For instance, smart watches can be used to make phone calls, forecast the weather and track fitness patterns as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). 5G is also powering the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). For example, the democratization of film-making; now a 5G smartphone can function as a camera, an editing device and a theatre. You don’t necessarily need expensive equipment,heavy gears, crews etc. This is due to the speed and flexibility of the network.
5G is innovating the restaurant industry to a concept known as ghost or virtual kitchen. You don’t have to walk into a physical restaurant, you could just place your orders online, thanks to 5G fast data processing, suffice to mention the potential of drone delivery. The ghost kitchen concept removes the barrier of entry that so many talented chefs face. They can just operate their restaurant from their homes without having to rent and set up a physical restaurant. According to a recent market research firm, Euromonitor, ghost kitchens could be a 1$ trillion global industry by 2030.
The future of autonomous vehicles is here, with 5G. According to Ericsson magazine the future of self-driving cars will generate nearly 2 petabytes of data which is equivalent to 2 million gigabytes. “With an advanced Wi-Fi connection, it will take 230 days to transfer a week’s worth of data from a self -driving car,” with 5G that time will go from 230 days to just over 2days.
Health care is not left out in this revolution;
The 5G network is helping doctors in conducting robotic surgeries. Using 5G technology a skilled surgeon would be able to have the robot operate on a patient hundred or even thousands of miles away. A blazening fast 5G connection with super-low tendency could ensure precision on surgery and just the right touch as mentioned in Forbes (oct.1,2019).
5G is used in video games with Augmented Reality(AR).Virtual/Augmented Reality training could help onboard or upskill employees remotely, giving them life-like hands- on experience with heavy machinery in a safe environment. Oil and gas or other utility enterprises can apply this technology to help reduce time and cost of employees’ training programmes. 5G network can also be deployed to robots working in mines to prevent health hazards if the work were to be done by humans.
5G real-time responses within 1 millisecond latency as opposed to the 4LTE about 50 milliseconds rate. HD movies can be downloaded about 50 times faster than 4G. This minute difference in latency rate accounts for visuals being a bit slower than audios when making WhatApp video calls with 3G and 4G network connection.
The 5G ultra wideband is expected to connect under ideal circumstances, devices travelling up to 310 miles per hour; which means passengers in fast moving vehicles and trains can still stay connected to their 5G phones and other 5G devices.
Demurrals and Delay
The new technology raises some worries just as other technology in the offing. It is an established fact from virtually all science quarters that 5G does not cause any damage to health. However, meteorologists are concerned with how the 5G millimeter band could affect the accuracy of weather forecasting. Some of the frequencies that 5G transmits comes perilously close to those used by satellites to gather crucial weather and climate data (Nature,2019). Scientists have prescribed measures to keep signals from interference.
As the country is pushing for 5G roll outs. There are however some other impediments. Recently, the country’s telecom regulating agency budgeted 14 million naira for research in 5G deployment; This is just roughly the cost of one student tuition-fee for a session at any Ivy-league University. There are inadequate funds for 5G research and development in Nigeria. Telecommunication industries are yet to invest heavily in the development of 5G infrastructure unlike their oversea counterparts in their host countries. Huawei invested $13.5 billion on research and development in 2018, according to Bloomberg. US network equipment giant Cisco spent $6.37 billion, Nokia spent 5.46 billion, Ericsson $4.48 billion. Meanwhile, a crop of researchers at New York University are already working on technologies that could underpin sixth-generation networks.
The cost of 5G equipment and services also impedes deployment. Current exchange rate of the country’s currency is very high. telecommunication service providers depend on foreign vendors for equipment. This alone is a heavy burden for operators to bear. The huge investment required, lengthens roll out time further and farther.
People cannot stream videos at 5G speed without a 5G phone or computer. The deployment of 5G is determined by the availability of 5G devices which is pretty scarce especially in this part of the globe.
Poor public sensitisation has also affected the spread of the technology. Even some stakeholders in the country are not convinced as to whether or not the 5G network is safe for health. The country’s legislative organ, the National Assembly, has called on the agencies
involved to further investigate to ascertain the safety of the network to public health.
The telecommunication service users bear the burden of the outrageous high spectrum pricing. This has been a major setup to penetration in the country especially in the suburban areas of the country as the government seeks to maximize revenue generation from the telecom industries.
Some spectrum touted for commercialisation of the network by the country’s regulating agency may already be in use. Thus Harmonisation of spectrum is a challenge to the National agency. The challenge is a possible cause of international roaming issues and spectrum interference
across borders; such as possible interference with microwave bands from weather Satellites.
There is a poor penetration of optical fibres around the country. Nigeria needs over 120,000km of fibre network for the nation’s backhaul interconnectivity; only a meager 32% of the requirement has been met according to NCC. The maintenance culture of the existing optical
fibre cable network is deplorable due to vandalism which sometimes arise from poor documentation, planning and indication of the cable routes to guide construction companies.
On a cursory look, countries that want to stay competitive are adapting to 5G supported technology; telecom, artificial intelligence and quantum computing in an increasingly rapid space. The advanced world is in its fourth industrial revolution, driven by digitalisation. The race
to see which country will have the best 5G network has begun in earnest. Communication service providers are battling to build, validate and deploy commercial 5G networks.
Nigeria, the giant of Africa can not afford to be left out in this revolution, placing the enormous economic opportunities therein to consideration.