5G; Contemporary Technology and a Promise of Mystical Experiences
Sub Title : The advantages that would accrue and the concerns related to this technology accretion
Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 3 Jul/Aug 2019
Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM, (Retd)
Page No. : 48
Category : Military Technology
: July 31, 2019
5G networks are the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices. The author lucidly articulates on the advantages that would accrue and the concerns related to this technology accretion, both technical and those which are security related
Today many artists draw in pencil and then add colour digitally; contemporary by IT, mystical by perception.
Contemporary growth in IT and the mystical reach of wireless technologies leave us spellbound; believe it, a lot has changed within the lifespan of our generation. Concurrently, Cellular Technology has evolved five generations from analog to digital, voice to data and narrowband (Kbps to broad band Gbps).
It took less than 20 years for mobile subscribers worldwide to grow from zero to over one billion. This need to connect, communicate and entertain was fuelled by a tremendous growth in Information, Communication, Computers and Cyber Technology (ICTEC). The growth continues to spiral and we are at the threshold of another major revolution in wireless systems; so, tighten your seat belts for a never before ICTEC experience.
In the last two decades, Internet too has progressed from curiosity to an indispensable global information network providing a vast array of services and applications. It has changed the way we share information, conduct business, and seek entertainment. Broadband access not only provides faster Web-surﬁng and quicker downloading but also enables several multimedia applications, such as real-time audio and video streaming, multimedia conferencing, and interactive gaming. A hungry generation wants these services even on the move and without jitters or delays. 4G is reaching its technical limits and can no longer support the increased demand of web and cyber space access, and fulfil desires of its users.
What is 5G Technology?
5G technology enables wireless systems to operate in the millimeter wave, a super high frequency spectrum that ranges from 24 to 100 GHz, compared to 700 Mhz – 2500 Mhz for 4G (unlicensed spectrum below 6 GHz: 600 MHz and between 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz will be used for first generation of 5G networks).
Since Bandwidth is the range between the highest and lowest frequency, the gains in terms of data transfer i.e. bits per second will be exponential leading to a new level of web experience. The promise is of superfast speeds, goodbye to congestion and a welcome to lower latency (the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction). Key benefits of 5G are as under:
- Operations in the millimetre wave spectrum allow more devices to be used within the same geographic area; 4G supports about 4,000 per square kilometre, 5G will support……hold your breath..….. around one million. The options of exploiting ICTEC for connecting, communicating, business, entertainment, etc are indeed phenomenal. I am not much of a cliché user but apparently with 5G – ‘Sky is the Limit’
- 5G also uses a new digital technology MIMO, (Multiple Input Multiple Output), simply stated: multiple targeted electromagnetic beams to spotlight and follow users around a cell site, intelligently improving coverage, speed and capacity. This is a big jump over current network technologies that illuminate a complete area leading to wastage of signal and a host of other transmission problems.
- It will have extremely low latency. Lower latency will be useful for services requiring instantaneous communications like self-driving cars and virtual robotic surgery; the real new of web services.
- Since thousands of devices will be working, reliably, securely and uninterrupted in the same area, it will be a gateway for:
o Internet of Things (IoT): extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects leading to smart homes, smart cars and so on.
o Data-driven industries, smart cities, infrastructure management and so on.
Are there any Concerns?
Every new venture has a challenge: 5G’s complexity itself is its challenge:
- Design of hardware at millimetre waves will be more complex.
- Laws of Physics govern behaviour of the electromagnetic spectrum: range travelled by the signal is inversely proportional to frequency; higher the frequency (24 to 100 GHz in 5G), lower the range (trials have shown as little as 500 metre from the tower!!!).
- Range gets further reduced due to inability of the signal at these high frequencies to penetrate obstructions.
- Contemporary media trend (user aspiration) is towards video calls, streaming, downloading, gaming etc; huge demand of data volumes handled on networks.
- This high speed data will be delivered to users via a complex array of MIMO antenna. The concept is to increase number of transmitting antennae at the base station and mobile device (device to device communications will be available in 5G) to maximize data transfer. This is a complex technology, multiple antenna arrays will have stringent requirement of installation, optimisation and maintenance leading to cost penalties.
- Ultra-low latency expected out of 5G technology will enable mission critical applications like self-driving cars and robotic surgeries. Any delay would evidently cause unexpected and devastating results, ensuring this and achieving complete user acceptance and satisfaction will be a challenge.
- The consequence of shorter range will lead to multiple antenna arrays which will come at a cost. Their numbers and increased complexity will also lead to increased optimisation effort, maintenance, fault finding and repair costs. These costs and that of new IoT devices required to experience the mystique of 5G will certainly be passed onto the users.
- IoT devices are known to collect enormous amounts of user information. This information when analysed will increase vulnerability of users, businesses and institutions. Critical security monitoring of networks will therefore require automated veriﬁcation and/or Artificial Intelligence (AI).
- A recent IoT analysis predicts that by 2025, the number of IoT devices will increase from the current 7 billion to 21.5 billion; more the devices, larger the vulnerability basket. Similarly, the density of Base stations will increase manifold, adding to the vulnerability surface area.
Are these vulnerabilities like ‘Time Bombs’ which will explode later or will these be addressed ‘Now’ before full scale deployment of 5G happens? All nations including India are conducting stringent trials.
Information is the currency of power in all matter’s military. While adequate bandwidth is available in the hinterland to share information on Optical Fibre Cable, bandwidth currently available at the forward edge of the Tactical Battle Area is fairly inadequate. 5G with its humungous bandwidth, IoT devices and device to device communications is bound to add a new dimension to the Art of War; it will make warfare faster and deadlier. A summary of likely uses is as under:
- Ultra-low latency will make sensors, autonomous vehicles and battlefield management systems more efficient and effective. It will also make anti-missile and anti-hypersonic systems smarter and real time responsive; human involvement and errors will reduce.
- With faster sharing of data, efficient video conferencing and better integration of sensors, commanders and weapon systems, 5G will provide a new dimension to improving situational awareness and Command & Control Communications; 5G will complement and hasten cognitive responses of commanders.
- 5G’s capability to connect up to a million devices per square kilometre will ensure that soldiers can extensively use strap on devices to enhance situational awareness and biometric wearables to track their vital parameters-heart-rate, blood pressure, fatigue etc and their geographical position.
All these capabilities come with a price: new and uncertain geo political and strategic implications. There is already an intense trade war being fought between the United State and China over Huawei: could the US -China fight over 5G be a posturing over Military dominance brought about by a desire to control this the new dimension in warfare.
Is it Advantage Huawei?
Without doubt with the worldwide proliferation of their telecommunications solutions and devices Chinese firms are world leaders in the field.
The world is however cautious of their Cyber Security vulnerabilities which can be created by their intrusions and attacks.
Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd started early and has managed to take the lead in 5G Technologies; they are manufacturing equipment covering almost the entire range of 5G and IoT devices. Competitors like Nokia, Siemens and Ericsson are lagging far behind in research and implementation. Huawei has faced criticism and allegations of its products ‘containing backdoors’ for Chinese government espionage, which they obviously have denied.
In pure technology terms, Huawei will certainly remain a bound ahead. Huawei’s products are cheap which is a principal reason for which other nations want to contest them. Nations will have to balance this Huawei advantage politically and by using trade strategies in the multi trillion dollars race. Reinventing the wheel however will be an expensive draw for anyone at this stage. Huawei also buys technology and products from other countries; any restrictions will therefore impact this.
Way Ahead for India
Bengaluru based fab-less semiconductor company, Signalchip unveiled India’s first semiconductor chips for 4G/LTE and 5G NR modems in the presence of Telecom Secretary Ms. Aruna Sundararajan. The SCBM34XX and SCRF34XX/45XX series of chips, code-named ‘Agumbe’, are the result of over eight years of relentless and deep R&D by Signalchip engineers. These chips put India into an elite group of countries that own this widely used fundamental technology. -Deccan Chronical, 28 Feb 2019
Deployment of 5G is inevitable. India is making significant efforts to be relevant in this process:
- Defining requirements of the 5G standard through TSDSI (Telecom Standards Body of India).
- The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has already recommended auction of about 8,644 MHz of telecom frequencies, including those for 5G services, at an estimated total base price of Rs 4.9 lakh crore.
- Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has recently allocated a budget of Rs 240 crores to create a national 5G test bed that will enable Indian companies, academia and startups to conduct cutting-edge research on 5G-related technologies.
Despite these efforts, as per current estimates India will have to depend upon may international players for the roll out of 5G, which includes Huawei.
India still imports 90% of its telecom equipment needs. India’s import of parts of mobile phones as well as telecom equipment from China increased from $1.3 billion in 2014 to $9.4 billion in 2017, according to a recent study by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. -Hindustan Times, 12 July 2019
While there are differing world views on proliferation of Huawei, India must use its huge market to leverage strategic, political and trade advantages; anyone who wants to make profit from our population must pay a price or stay out. Also, Cyber threats are not limited to Huawei or other Chinese companies alone. Installing ‘backdoors and vulnerabilities’ in hardware equipment is an established practice; ‘backdoors are really silent and vigilant sleeper cells to strike when required.’
Cyber Security concerns must be addressed with inputs from all security agencies with stringent qualitative requirements, testing and trials. What is good or bad for others may not be good or bad enough for India, we must chart our own course.
India must also immediately commence research in the 6G sphere and take a competitive lead over others; indigenisation through innovation in niche fields will surely pay rich dividends. The emergence of IoT, smart devices, establishments and institutions has taken digitization of societies to a new level. ICTEC and a secured network infrastructure are critical needs for any developed country. India must therefore become self-reliant in this sphere on the trot.