Speed ​​is not the main thing

Throughout 2018, the topic of the launch, implementation and development of fifth generation networks periodically surfaced on the Internet. As is usually the case with new technology, a lot of big words and big numbers were spoken, which should have impressed the mass consumer and explained how cool it is to have fifth generation networks. The main emphasis, as in the days of the launch of the networks of previous generations, was made on increasing the data transfer speed in the networks of the fifth generation. Let's try to understand the justification of such advertising slogans, which we are treated to by passionaries from the world of technology.

To do this, I propose to go back a little in time and remember how cellular communication appeared in general.

Произошло это 3 апреля 1973 года в Нью-Йорке, когдаМартин Купер, сотрудник компанииMotorola, занимавшийся вопросом развития мобильной связи, находясь на улице, позвонил своему конкуренту из компании AT&T Джоэлю Энгелю и сообщил, что звонит ему по мобильному phone.

From this moment, you can start counting generations of cellular communications, of which there are already five at the moment. By the way, the first generation of the cellular network got into commercial operation only 11 years after that memorable call.

Starting from the second generation (2G), it becomes possible to transmit not only voice, but also data in cellular networks. This predetermined the further development of this entire industry. Initial speeds were ridiculous by current standards – 9.6 kilobits / sec. Today it seems not just slow, but a catastrophically slow way to enter the world wide web. In addition to the low speed, while accessing the Internet, the phone did not have the ability to receive and make voice calls – the same data channel was used.

This state of affairs did not suit either users, telecom operators or engineers. It was necessary to teach mobile devices to interact with the Internet at higher speeds. In 1997, the result of these investigations was the emergence of the GPRS technology, which allowed not only to significantly increase the speed, but also to transfer data via a separate channel, in packages, and therefore, it became possible to charge such data transmission within the framework of the volume of data transferred, and not in time carried out on the network. The speeds given by the new standard seemed to be cosmic – in practice it was about 100 kilobits / sec. Perhaps it was then that the main advertising slogan was born, which became for many an explanation of the meaning of the development of cellular networks – “higher speed”.

Subsequently, this standard has gone through a couple more evolutions (EDGE, E-EDGE), which allowed bringing the data transfer rate in the E-EDGE network up to 1.2 megabits / sec. By the way, few people know about E-EDGE, since the technology was outdated even before its appearance and therefore did not find practical application.

However, progress required not evolution, but a revolution, the ground for which was prepared by the IMT-2000 standardization organization, since 1992, having been developing the UMTS standard, which was supposed to become the third generation of cellular communications, designed to solve not only the problem of speed, but also the unexpectedly appeared problem of capacity. cellular networks. It is precisely at this time that it becomes clear that in the event of an explosive growth in the number of mobile devices consuming traffic through the cellular network, the existing base stations will not be able to provide simultaneous connection of everyone.

So, by the time the 3G standard appeared, the problem of the capacity of existing networks became obvious. Anyone who has been using cellular communication for a long time should remember the times when in a place where a large number of people congregate it became problematic to use a cell phone due to the fact that the network was often 'busy' – this was the message the phone gave when trying to call or access the Internet. This was especially evident during major holidays – on New Year's Eve it was a great success to call from a cell phone.

The widespread introduction of third-generation networks and their subsequent evolution made it possible to temporarily solve the problem of insufficient network capacity, but entailed colossal financial investments from telecom operators, who became hostages of the progress of their promises and the desires of their customers that appeared because of this – the main advertising postulate. In order to explain the need for network development, the promise to increase data transfer speed as the main value for the customer became.

At the same time, according to the results of studies by the 3GPP consortium (replaced the IMT-2000 standardization organization), it turned out that for the average user of that time, the data transfer rate was not aspirated as 21.6 megabits / sec, but a modest 3.2 megabits / sec. which were previously adopted by 3GPP as a minimum threshold for a network to be considered a third generation network.

It turned out that the majority of users do not need prohibitive speeds. Moreover, over 95% of respondents generally found it difficult to answer at what speed the Internet works in their phones. Most people didn't care. However, the same people, like a mantra, began to repeat the marketing words “Give more speed in LTE networks!” When this very LTE loomed on the horizon.

Yes, speed turned out to be important, and given the enormous increase in traffic in cellular networks, it is necessary. Just think, for the period from 2011 to 2016 the volume of received / transmitted information in cellular networks increased 18 times.

However, the same network capacity turned out to be even more necessary, since by mid-2012, when LTE triumphantly walked the planet, the number of activations of devices-consumers of mobile traffic, according to Informa Telecoms & Media, amounted to an impressive figure of 2 million units per day! And all these devices, of which more than 150 million appeared on the LTE network by 2014, needed their own piece of the traffic pie.

Seeing this, the operators urgently decided to build now LTE networks, forgetting about the grandiose 3G construction.

The most far-sighted ones who made a bet immediately on LTE, without throwing all their efforts into the construction of 3G, were the winners. The Swedes distinguished themselves most of all in this – the operator TeliaSonera at that time was the undisputed leader both in average speed in LTE networks and in the stability of these very speeds.

In addition to the construction of LTE networks, the principle of distribution of cellular network capacities has also undergone changes. The 'voice', which had been inviolable all this time, faded into the background, giving way to data transmission. The detailed transformation turned out to be a forced measure and response to changing scenarios for using cell phones, which have grown smarter, turning into smartphones that strongly require LTE.

Let's try to guess what purpose and characteristic was chosen as the main advertising force? Right, speed again. Now we were talking about the sky-high 'gigabit per second' in the cellular network (to which we have not grown in almost eight years).

The most offensive thing is that behind the words about unprecedented speeds in the shadows remained such wonderful characteristics of LTE networks as network scalability, no need for network controllers, when each base station is a controller for itself and sees the entire network at once, and not just a small piece in its region , which means that it itself can distribute the load, and, of course, the ability to work at any available frequencies. This all turned out to be interesting to a small number of enthusiasts, for the rest of the users they rolled out the idol again – speed!

This is neither good nor bad, because the most effective tool should work, and if slogans about speed are the easiest way to explain the need to pay for development, so be it. The question is how long this scenario will work.

But the 'five' is not only about speed. The list of advantages of the upcoming standard can include such advantages as:

  • minimum delays in packet exchange (1 ms);
  • flexible speed control;
  • integration with existing generations / communication standards;
  • low power consumption, which will allow you not to increase the size of the battery in devices, but more efficiently use the existing capacity;
  • ensuring a stable connection between fast moving objects;
  • huge capacity (up to 10 million devices per square kilometer).

Due to its architecture and the above characteristics, the fifth generation network is ideal for exchanging data between devices without human intervention. This becomes especially relevant in the light of the use of Big Data, smart home systems, the emergence of smart cars, which need to constantly interact with each other.

History has the peculiarity of developing in a spiral, which means it repeats itself. And, judging by the good old slogans about “incredible speeds” that have appeared on the network, the fifth generation network, which is another breakthrough and a small technological miracle, will again be packaged in a shabby gift box labeled “High Speed”. Although, let the user at least so join in the understanding of progress, than take it for granted, without thinking or analyzing.

I never tire of repeating that we live in an amazing time, when discoveries that can change the world and change it happen almost every day, and gradually our ability to perceive amazing things is dulled. Technology has become so closely intertwined with our life, becoming a part of it, that it is taken for granted, ceasing to amaze and impress. This is neither bad nor good, it is a given. And, perhaps, this is correct when a complex technology is perceived as a simple and convenient addition that improves the quality of life, which does not require straining your brains to understand how to use it. But this convenience has the other side of the coin – one day you can forget how to think and wonder.

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