Every 10 years mobile connectivity has a generational evolution. We’ve had 1G (voice calls), 2G (SMS messaging), 3G (web browsing) and 4G (LTE/ rich internet services). We’re now reaching the 5G evolution, which, like the other four phases of connectivity, promises to be truly game-changing. 5G is set to enter the mass market in 2020 prior to the Tokyo Olympics in July and August that year; however, it will begin to really take off in 2019. At this year’s CES event, Qualcomm proclaimed that 2019 would be the “the year of 5G” and announced that it expected to deliver over 30 5G devices throughout the year. By 2024, Ericsson’s Mobility Report from November 2018 predicts that there will be around 1.5 billion smartphone devices that have 5G capabilities.
Arm is already excited about this potential. We believe that 5G will be a truly transformative technology, enabling new services, businesses and opportunities, while also helping to reach our own prediction of one trillion connected devices by 2035. You may have already read a blog from Arm’s Chief Executive Simon Segars about the importance of 5G, why this latest evolution of connectivity is far more than ‘just another G’, and why it will be one the ‘hottest technology trends’ of 2019.
Looking back to Arm TechCon in October 2018, there was substantial buzz about the possibilities enabled by 5G in the future. Marcelo Claure, Chief Operating Officer at SoftBank, stated that the future 5G network driven by SoftBank will lead to 10x increased connectivity, 10x lower latency and 100x faster speeds compared to 4G. All these features will enable a raft of new and emerging use cases that will become a prominent part of our daily lives in the future, while also substantially improving current use cases, such as how we use our smartphones and PCs. Arm’s very own “5G evangelists” Kinjal Dave and Ray Hwang gave fascinating insights into the potential of 5G and what this means for devices in the future.
The societal impact of 5G
Before delving into 5G-ready devices, it is important to reflect on its likely societal impact which promises to be very significant. Firstly, the 5G roll-out is predicted to lead to trillions of dollars being invested into the global economy and millions of jobs being created. The Ericsson Mobility Report from June 2018 estimated that there will be annual global investment of $200 billion between 2020 and 2035, with 22 million jobs likely to be created worldwide by 2035. You only have to look at the amount of business, jobs and investment that were generated as a direct result 4G to realize that the impact of 5G will be huge, and potentially even greater. Secondly, the massive, super-fast connectivity of 5G will substantially increase the economy of scale, with this helping innovation around smart cities, smart homes and smart agriculture. Essentially, everything will have the potential to be connected once 5G is deployed. Thirdly, the near-zero latency of 5G will push the boundaries of “mission critical” use cases, enabling the further development of medical surgery via robots, emergency services, and autonomous driving.
Finally, 5G could even replace WiFi networks and routers. The November 2018 Ericsson Mobility Report predicts that half a dozen fixed wireless devices and applications will be launched in 2019. In fact, a big commercial roll-out will be taking place across the U.S throughout 2019. Fixed wireless devices and applications have the potential to enable and enhance 5G networks, even in remote areas, which effectively means that WiFi and fixed broadband packages could become a thing of the past.
To further develop emerging use cases and make new use cases on devices possible, the 5G roll-out is an essential requirement. On devices, 5G is set to bring faster speeds, hyper capacity (between 5 and 20 Gbps), new viewing experiences, 8K resolution streaming, and 360-degree video – which is important for the development of Mixed Reality. This will change the way that people use their devices every day. Games will become more dynamic, with real-time multiplayer games through augmented reality (AR). Watching experiences will become more vivid through 8K resolution and new viewing experiences, such as virtual reality (VR). Mobile shopping will be more innovative, with virtual fittings of furniture through virtual placements enabled by AR and SLAM.
Moreover, in 2018, Arm made great strides in the PC market with Windows 10 on Snapdragon PCs. An important feature of these devices is the ability to stay ‘always connected’ through the LTE modem, which is available through Windows on Snapdragon PCs as shown in this October 2018 blog. In this regard, the 5G connectivity will be a game-changer, with users able to connect to the super-fast 5G network through their laptops while they are ‘on-the-go’. This means not needing to connect to the public WiFi networks, which can be inconsistent, costly and pose a number of security risks to users.
System design challenges
Before getting too carried away about the unprecedented opportunities from 5G-ready devices, it is important to consider the sheer amount of work still needed to support the new portfolio of different and emerging use cases and service types. The 5G roll-out is likely to present a number of system design challenges on devices, which will be focused around three areas – size, power and performance. In many ways, the opportunities from 5G will be redundant if the devices are not up to the mark. The increased speeds through 5G will lead to power and thermal challenges for devices, made even more difficult by the fact that devices and batteries are getting thinner. Moreover, the higher throughput from 5G will push devices to the limit, with this being a whole system computing challenge. At the moment, it is difficult to design products that will meet the requirements of 5G, as its potential is limitless but still largely unknown. The one thing we do know is that more compute processing power will be needed.
Looking more broadly on the network side, having to support a higher data rate, higher capacity and lower latency due to the 5G roll-out is likely to put a strain on network deployments and coordination, leading to denser and more hierarchical networks. As a result, there could be a heavier use of edge computing and fog networks. Networks will also have to handle a number of conflicting requirements, such as billions of low-end devices with low-data rates, together with smartphones with high-data rates and sensitive mission critical devices that cannot afford data delays. In order to support the 5G roll-out, networks will need to heavily rely on evolutions of new development techniques, such as Network Function Virtualization, to enable the flexible use of fixed computing resources.
How Arm is driving 5G
Arm’s portfolio of products helps to meet the diverse range of computing needs and spans different key areas related to the 5G roll-out, from network infrastructure to device processors. In addition, we are well-positioned to address any new challenges that 5G will bring to devices and networks. Our high-performing and power efficient Cortex-A processors will be at the heart of the new 5G-ready devices, enabling a higher performance that can handle the increased speed and throughput from 5G. Meanwhile, in the modem space, our portfolio of efficient Cortex-R processors is suitable for running a cellular stack as part of a modem solution. While modem implementations are diverse at this stage, Arm’s rich product portfolio is providing a wide range of choices to our partners and their customers.
Exciting 5G opportunities
5G presents phenomenal opportunities, but the entire ecosystem must be prepared to grasp them. Significant changes to emerging use cases and the creation of entire new use cases enabled by 5G are exciting, but we need to have the architectures and processors in place to support the increased workloads on devices. Currently, as detailed above, Arm has a number of products, processors and technologies that could support devices as the world moves to 5G. However, we’re acutely aware that more products will need to be developed to meet the power, performance and compute challenges that are likely to emerge. Arm stands ready to support our partners as the world and devices start to become 5G-ready throughout 2019.