Wireless technology is continually evolving, and it has changed significantly since the first technologies were invented following the discovery of radio waves in 1880. Some of the most impressive advancements have come about very recently, and the wireless network sector is poised to make more significant changes soon. More advancement will certainly follow. Innovation in the wireless industry is showing no signs of slowing down.
Wireless communication is overtaking wired technologies and will continue to expand into the future. By 2020, traffic from wireless and mobile devices is expected to account for two-thirds of all IP traffic. That same year, there will be around 20.4 billion Internet of Things, or IoT, devices connected to the network.
In this post, we’ll look at how wireless connectivity will progress around the world and the new wireless network technology that will drive these changes.
How It Will Progress
For much of the history of wireless networks, large telecommunications companies have driven most of the changes in the industry. That pattern continues today, and large companies will continue to have substantial influence into the future. In today’s world, though, small companies have a better chance than ever before of disrupting the industry, and many are working towards that. We have also seen some new large companies make moves into the wireless space in recent years.
Wireless has the advantage of not needing the massive infrastructure investments of wired networks, which opens up the market to smaller companies. This also makes it more feasible for large corporations, as well as customers, to switch to wireless products.
Wireless technologies also make it easier to expand Internet access to areas that were hard to reach with wired tech. Facebook, Google and SpaceX have all launched projects with this goal in mind. Facebook is working on using drones flown at high altitudes to beam Internet connectivity to people on the ground below. Google took a similar approach with a variation on weather balloons, and SpaceX is working on small, low-orbiting satellites that would create networks.
These kinds of approaches could help provide access to the Internet to rural communities, remote communities and people in developing countries. Gaining access to the Internet could spark huge changes for these groups of people, as did for those living in non-remote parts of the developed world. There’s still a large portion of the world that lacks Internet access too — around 52 percent.
For the parts of the world that already have access to the Internet and other wireless technologies, the future looks a bit different. Developed countries will see many more devices gaining the ability to connect to the Internet. Wireless technologies will continue to improve as well. Companies will focus on making advancements in areas such as:
- Speed: The future of wireless networks will be much faster than today’s technology. This increased speed will enable wireless connectivity to become a part of more areas of our lives and power advanced, data-hungry applications.
- Dependability: Wireless networks will also become more reliable as technologies improve. This will be crucial as we begin using more wireless devices for applications like self-driving cars, physical security and medical care.
- Security: Security is a significant issue in the world of wireless technology, especially with the emergence of IoT tech. Wireless companies will place significant focus in this area in the future.
Various new and improved wireless network technologies will drive this change.
Upcoming Wireless Network Technologies
Some of the new wireless technologies that we’ll start to see over the coming years are improvements on existing technologies, while others represent entirely new ways of enabling connectivity. These future wireless technologies include:
The next generation of wireless connectivity is 5G, and it’s already here, although not yet in full force. Telecom companies have started to roll out their 5G networks, and they should be fully available within the next five years or so.
As compared to previous generations of networks, this new generation of wireless tech is expected to offer more speed, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices, such as IoT devices. Speeds of one Gigabit per second (Gbps) are expected to be typical, but it could potentially get as fast as 10 Gbps.
5G will run on two different kinds of frequencies. Low-frequency 5G will use existing Wi-Fi and cellular bands and get its speed from more flexible encoding and larger channel sizes. Other types of 5G will run at frequencies as high as 28 to 39 Gigahertz (GHz), which aren’t currently heavily used.
Verizon Wireless launched the first 5G home service in several cities in October 2018, although the networks don’t technically meet the global mobile standards set for 5G at the end of 2017. AT&T plans to launch its 5G network, which is expected to fully comply with the standard, by the end of 2018. Verizon plans to swap out its equipment to meet the standard in 2019.
In addition to offering faster speeds and other consumer benefits, 5G is seen as crucial to advanced technologies like IoT and virtual reality (VR), which require high amounts of speed and bandwidth.
Even though 5G is just now being introduced, the industry is already preparing for the next generation of technology, 6G. The Center for Converged TeraHertz Communications and Sensing (ComSenTer), part of the Semiconductor Research Corporation, is researching the radio technologies that will enable the sixth generation of wireless tech.
The 6G network, ComSenTer says, will operate at frequencies of 100 GHz to 1 terahertz (THz) and offer speeds of up to 100 Gbps with very low latency. According to the researchers, 6G will be able to handle hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous connections. Overall, the system should be able to offer more capacity with lower power requirements.
Of course, there are still challenges to be overcome in figuring out how 6G will work. Obstructions, for instance, are more of an issue at high frequencies. It could be critical that we solve these issues and start preparing the 6G network soon. Some industry experts say that it won’t be long before the rapidly increasing IoT network outgrows 5G.
Luckily, this 6G technology could be in commercial use within 10 years, which shows just how quickly wireless technology evolves.
3. Massive MIMO Antennas
Massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antennas will be an important technology for enabling 5G and eventually 6G networks. Instead of having just a few antennas at each end of a link, a Massive MIMO system has a much larger number of antennas. This enables multiple signals to travel over the same radio channel at the same time, meaning that the capacity of the system is much higher.
With Massive MIMO, you can scale the system theoretically as large as you need it to go. It was previously thought that wireless data had capacity limits, but according to researchers from the Swedish Linköping University, there are no limits when using Massive MIMO. To get more capacity, you simply add more antennas.
Massive MIMO is already live in some areas and is used in Japan and China for 4G LTE technology. It’s expected to play an important role in the future of wireless network infrastructure, as 5G and 6G are rolled out. The lack of a capacity limit will be critical as we continue to send more and more data back and forth.
4. The Future of LTE
LTE is a standard used for high-speed wireless communications and describes the path toward achieving true 4G speeds. LTE is today, along with LTE Advanced (LTE-A) and LTE-A Pro, part of the 4G LTE system. These technologies help handle capacity demands and increase speed. They will also act as a stepping stone to 5G by inching speeds closer to what will be possible with the fifth generation of wireless connectivity tech. As 5G begins to roll out, LTE technologies will fill in the gaps where coverage doesn’t exist yet. 4G will play a similar role.
Some of the more advanced LTE technologies will also work in conjunction with 5G. LTE-A, LTE-A Pro, Gigabit LTE and possibly other future types of LTE will help to support 5G. LTE-A is available today and can provide speeds that exceed those of 4G. LTE-A Pro has the potential to reach speeds of up to 3 Gbps, although real-world speeds will probably be less. Telstra launched the first Gigabit LTE network in January 2017 in Australia, which has peak upload speeds of 150 Mbps at the time. Other operators are now upgrading their networks as well.
Another development in the world of LTE is LTE-U, which is short for Long-Term Evolution in unlicensed spectrum. LTE-U is a wireless communication system that is designed to use unlicensed parts of the spectrum to reduce some of the burden on carriers’ networks. These unlicensed parts are open to anybody, within certain limits. The use of LTE-U is somewhat controversial, however, because it has the potential to slow down Wi-Fi signals. Proponents of LTE-U say they are working on solutions that would prevent this problem from occurring.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile has already rolled out support for LTE-U in six U.S. cities. AT&T, however, has decided to skip LTE-U and go straight to Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), a standardized version of LTE-U. Verizon has been a proponent of LTE-U. Both technologies will help fill in the gaps in the transition to 5G.
Another competitor is LWA, which stands for LTE-WLAN Aggregation. This technology configures the network to support both LTE and WLAN simultaneously. MulteFire operates in the unlicensed spectrum and requires users to install MulteFire access points instead of Wi-Fi gateways.
Another exciting future wireless technology is Li-Fi, which is similar to Wi-Fi but uses visible light waves instead of radio waves to send data. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have worked to develop the technology, and it has been tested at a factory in Estonia.
Using Li-Fi would be advantageous for many reasons. It offers increased sped and improved security. In lab tests, it has reached speeds of 224 Gbps. In the field test in Estonia, it hit 1 Gigabyte per second (GBps).
Currently, the development focuses on using LEDs to send data. Using Li-Fi technology, every LED lightbulb could essentially become a wireless router. The LEDs can be turned on and off at a speed so rapid that the human eye can’t see the changes. This flashing is how the LEDs send data. They would flash in a Morse code-like pattern made of ones and zeros. Another benefit of Li-Fi is that could work with existing tech and infrastructure.
6. Wireless Charging
Our world is also becoming wireless in ways that go beyond communications. Wireless charging has now become available, and the technology is quickly improving. Current wireless charging isn’t truly wireless, as it requires plugging the charger into the wall. You can then lay your device on the charging mat or plate without having to use wires to connect it to the charger. The devices still need to be in contact with the charger though.
In the future, we will be able to charge our phones while they are in our pockets. Large main power sources could be placed in discrete places, such as in the ceiling, and charge multiple devices at once. Several companies are working on these types of technologies. A company called Energous has developed a product called WattUp that features a small central power source and can charge devices from up to 15 feet away. WiTricity has developed a similar technology.
What Will These New Technologies Enable?
These upcoming wireless technologies will power our future. Communications technologies play a significant role in our current lives, and these new technologies will bring new and improved capabilities, which will likely make them even more of a staple in our daily routines. Individuals, businesses, not-for-profits, governments and other organizations will all benefit from these innovations. They will help both those in developing and developed countries to improve their economies and standards of living, although that will mean different things for different parts of the world.
For those who are currently without Internet access, new wireless technologies could help bring that access to them, allowing them to participate in economies and conversations on the global stage. In developed countries, new wireless network tech will make transferring data faster, more reliable and more secure. It will also enable new data-hungry technologies like IoT, VR and even holograms. IoT has already started to take hold but has a much larger potential than is being expressed today. As data speed increases, VR may become a practical way to create more engaging, immersive communication experiences. Further into the future, we may communicate using dynamic holograms, which would require an even faster network. We have the technology necessary for these products today, but implementing them fully requires the higher data rates that 5G and eventually 6G could provide.
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