The standards for 5G have finally been set after years of planning and negotiating, which means we may be closer than ever to making 5G a mainstream reality. This year already, we have seen resounding success in launching 5G deployments at major events like the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang and the big football game. These two events show the tip of the iceberg in what is possible in a 5G-driven world.
The ultimate goal of deploying 5G is to replace all of the networks we currently use to stay connected to the internet, not just the mobile networks but also hardwired networks and Wi-Fi. The potential for businesses is massive as it will increase their ability to support mobile workers and remote locations that may not have other reliable internet connections.
However, to reap the full benefits of 5G and let it replace other networks, we need to be able to count on it all the time. Even a minor disruption can have a sweeping impact on the communications and connectivity for thousands of people. To ensure that we are meeting the standards needed to make 5G a viable communications medium, let’s look to challenges the military has faced.
The Communications Conundrum
On the battlefield, a strong, reliable communications channel is essential to pulling off any high-stakes operation. Imagine a squad of soldiers on a search and rescue mission in enemy territory. Everything appears to go smoothly as they approach their target location, but just as they split into smaller groups to cover more ground their radios fill with static, making vital communication impossible.
No matter how well they planned the operation, there is no way they can account for every variable. The ability to adapt effectively as a team depends on sharing information so every individual can coordinate their improvisations. With this in mind, adversaries will take every opportunity to disrupt communications to isolate members of the team.
Communication systems of every type have a specific flow they need to follow to be received. A message needs to be encoded into a format that can propagate across the intervening space. Then it is sent across the channel, often air, to the receiver, which must decode the message for consumption. If any of these stages fail, then the whole communications process fails.
Most modern communication at any distance depends on electromagnetic waves traveling over the air from one antenna to another. Each wave holds a little bit of information, either as digitally encoded bits or an approximation of an analog audio wave for voice communications. By filling the air with random signals on the frequencies that the team is using to communicate, a determined adversary can make it impossible for the receiving antenna to distinguish the original signal. If the signal is corrupted in transit, it cannot be decoded by the receiver and the whole communications process falls apart.
Lessons To Take Away
In the civilian world, 5G networks use the same methods to distribute information to their users, just on a larger scale with more permanent infrastructure. While the major events noted above went off without a hitch, they were temporary deployments of a new technology.
The likelihood of a deliberate, determined attempt to disrupt communications is significantly lower, but these networks are still vulnerable to accidental disruption. Multiple signals competing for the same space, even if each is legitimate, can have the same effect as deliberate sabotage. In the case of the successful deployments we have seen so far, there were no other 5G signals already deployed for them to disrupt. When there are permanent 5G networks, telecommunications providers will need to make sure these extra deployments do not interfere with their standard operations.
To ensure that 5G systems have the reliability they need to fulfill their full potential and promise, telecommunications providers need to conduct rigorous environmental testing that considers major electromagnetic interference. By testing against the standards of deliberate disruption, we can be sure that 5G networks will be able to handle what they need to, once they become part of our full communications process.