Everything to Know About the 5G Revolution—and How it Will Usher in 6G

Northeastern’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things is working on improving 5G operability and developing 6G technology, which will enable faster speeds and more reliable connections.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Tanner Stening. Main photo: A Northeastern student working in the WiNES lab, where researchers are designing a new generation of secure, reliable, energy-efficient wireless networked systems. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

When it comes to the dizzying pace of technological change in the world of smart devices, it’s perhaps easy to fixate on when the next big boost to connectivity will come and forget about the present.

That leap forward is at least seven years away, some experts say, when the next generation of mobile internet, called 6G, is expected to launch. Between now and then, researchers immersed in the Internet of Things are hard at work improving 5G operability, the potential of which has still to be fully harnessed.

In addition to being on the cutting edge of the 5G revolution, faculty with Northeastern’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things are expanding their course offerings to include industry training to prepare students to work on current and future generations of cellular network technology.

Since the Federal Communications Commission approved 5G deployment in 2018, telecommunication companies, including AT&T and Verizon, have been gradually getting their networks up to speed. While the broader societal impacts of the technology are still being worked out, proponents of 5G tout, among other things, faster network speeds for internet and cellphone users.

From 3G, 4G to 5G

Michele Polese, a principal research scientist at the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things, spoke to Northeastern Global News about the differences between 5G and its preceding generations.

“In the cellular world, there’s been this transition from 3G to 4G to 5G, with the goal of always improving the connection that the data user gets,” Polese says.

Commercially available in 2001, third-generation mobile networks enabled internet connectivity on the early smartphones. The major milestone of 4G was marked by the widespread deployment of mobile broadband. With each new generation, connectivity speeds improved leaps and bounds. Experts say that 4G technology is largely responsible for ushering in ubiquitous connectivity for services such as Netflix and Uber, among others.

“It’s this ability to have fast, reliable connectivity always available to you on your phone—in addition to the availability of better smartphones, obviously—that is what made these kinds of services [Netflix, Uber] possible,” says Tommaso Melodia, the ​​William Lincoln Smith Professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern, who directs the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things.

According to Polese, the three main upgrades associated with 5G deployment include, first, enhanced mobile broadband; second, ultra-reliable low-latency communications, designed for “mission-critical” communications, such as those required to operate autonomous vehicles, for example; and third, massive machine-type communication, which focuses on the networks specific to sensors and machines.

“The idea behind 5G is the diversification of what you can connect, where you can connect, and how you can connect it,” Polese says.

How close are we to 6G?

At present, 5G is widely deployed, with widespread coverage in most cities around the globe. But many of the capabilities promised by 5G have yet to be fully deployed, Melodia says.

“We’re still in the first half of the deployment of 5G, moving towards the second,” Melodia says. “Every cycle, going from one generation to the next, takes somewhere between 8 and 10 years.”

Those promised capabilities include things such as remote surgery and autonomous driving that are still being realized.

“One of the promises of 5G was that it would provide this very tight interconnection between the physical and digital world,” he says.

It’s possible, Melodia says, that there are 5G applications in development that the broader community may not be aware of.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Michele Polese, Tommaso Melodia, Stefano Basagni

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering