5g Network Architecture Overview

What Is 5G Network Architecture?

So – what exactly is 5G and how does 5G network technology architecture differ from previous “G’s”?

The 3GPP standards behind 5G network architecture were introduced by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the organization that develops international standards for all mobile communications. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and its partners define the requirements and timeline for mobile communication systems, defining a new generation approximately every decade. The 3GPP develops specifications for those requirements in a series of releases.

The “G” in 5G stands for “generation.” 5G technology architecture presents significant advances beyond 4G LTE (long-term evolution) technology, which comes on the heels of 3G and 2G. As we describe in our related resource, The journey to 5G there is always a time period during which multiple network generations exist at once. Like its predecessors, 5G must co-exist with previous networks for two important reasons:

  1. Developing and deploying new network technologies takes an enormous amount of time, investment and collaboration of major entities and carriers.
  2. Early adopters will always want to get their hands on new technologies as quickly as possible, whereas those who have made major investments in large deployments with existing network technologies, such as 2G, 3G and 4G LTE, want to make use of those investments for as long as possible, and certainly until the new network is fully viable. (Note that 2G and 3G networks are being sunset to make room for 5G deployment.

The network architecture of 5g mobile technology improves vastly upon past architectures. Large cell-dense networks enable massive leaps in performance. And in addition, the architecture of 5G networks offers better security compared to today’s 4G LTE networks.

In summary, 5G technology offers three principle advantages:

  • Faster data transmission speed, up to multi-Gigabit/s speeds.
  • Greater capacity, fueling a massive amount of IoT devices per square kilometer.
  • Lower latency, down to single-digit milliseconds, which is critically important in applications such as connected vehicles in its applications  and autonomous vehicles, where near instantaneous response is necessary.  

Does this mean that 5G is fully ready today? And does it mean 5G architecture is right for all applications? Read on to see how the new technology supports key applications, and which applications are more suited to 4G LTE.

5G technology is a breakthrough.

The next generation of telecom networks (fifth generation or 5G) has started hitting the market end of 2018 and will continue to expand worldwide.

Beyond speed improvement, the technology is expected to unleash a massive 5G IoT (Internet of Things) ecosystem where networks can serve communication needs for billions of connected devices, with the right trade-offs between speed, latency, and cost.

This makes sense if you think about what 5G has to offer.

5G Design and Planning Considerations

The design considerations for a 5G network architecture that supports highly demanding applications is complex. For example, there is no one-size-fits all approach; the range of applications requires data to travel distances, large data volumes, or some combination. So 5G architecture must support low, mid and high-band spectrum – from licensed, shared and private sources – to deliver the full 5G vision.

For this reason, 5G is architected to run on radio frequencies ranging from sub 1 GHz to extremely high frequencies, called “millimeter wave” (or mmWave). The lower the frequency, the farther the signal can travel. The higher the frequency, the more data it can carry.

5G Spectrum

There are three frequency bands at the core of 5G networks:

  • 5G high-band (mmWave) delivers the highest frequencies of 5G. These range from 24 GHz to approximately 100 GHz. Because high frequencies cannot easily move through obstacles, high-band 5G is short range by nature. Moreover, mmWave coverage is limited and requires more cellular infrastructure.
  • 5G mid-band operates in the 2-6 GHz range and provides a capacity layer for urban and suburban areas. This frequency band has peak rates in the hundreds of Mbps.
  • 5G low-band operates below 2 GHz and provides a broad coverage. This band uses spectrum that is available and in use today for 4G LTE, essentially providing an LTE 5g architecture for 5G devices that are ready now. Performance of low-band 5G is therefore similar to 4G LTE, and supports use for 5G devices on the market today.

In addition to spectrum availability and application requirements for distance vs. bandwidth considerations, operators must consider the power requirements of 5G, as the typical 5G base station design demands over twice the amount of power of a 4G base station.

Considerations for Planning and Deploying 5G Applications

Systems integrators, and those developing and deploying 5G applications for the verticals we’ve discussed, will find that it is important to consider trade-offs.

For example, here are examples of some of the key considerations:

  • Where will your application be deployed? Applications that are optimized for mmWave will not operate as expected within buildings and when extended range is required. Optimal use cases include 5G cellular telecommunications in the 24- to 39-GHz bands, police radar in the Ka-band (33.4- to 36.0-GHz), scanners in airport security, short-range radar in military vehicles and automated weapons on naval ships to detect and take down missiles.
  • What kind of throughput will be required? For autonomous vehicles and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) applications, the devices and connectivity must be optimized for speed. Near real time communications – measured in millionths of a second – are critical for vehicles and devices to “make decisions” on turning, accelerating and braking, and the lowest possible latency is mission critical for these applications.
  • Video and VR applications, by contrast, must be optimized for throughput. Video applications such as medical imaging can ultimately take full advantage of the massive amounts of data that 5G networks can support.

For 5G to deliver its full vision, the network infrastructure needs to evolve as well. The following diagram illustrates the migration over time,.

$G to 5G migration

The earliest uses of 5G technology will not be exclusively 5G but will appear in applications where connectivity is shared with existing 4G LTE in what is called non-standalone (NSA) mode. When operating in this mode, a device will first connect to the 4G LTE network, and if 5G is available, the device will be able to use it for additional bandwidth. For example, a device connecting in 5G NSA mode could get 200 Mbps of downlink speed over 4G LTE and another 600 Mbps over 5G at the same time, for an aggregate speed of 800 Mbps. 
As more and more 5G network infrastructure goes online over the next several years, it will evolve to enable 5G-only stand-alone mode (SA). This will bring the low latency and ability to connect with massive numbers of IoT devices that are among the primary advantages of 5G.

  • Up to 10Gbps data rate – > 10 to 100x speed improvement over 4G and 4.5G networks
  • 1-millisecond latency
  • 1000x bandwidth per unit area
  • Up to 100x number of connected devices per unit area (compared with 4G LTE)
  • 99.999% availability
  • 100% coverage
  • 90% reduction in network energy usage
  • Up to 10-year battery life for low power IoT device

How fast is 5G?

5G speed tops out at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps).

5G is 10 to x100 faster than what you can get with 4G.

5G speed
What makes 5G faster? Good question!

According to communication principles, the shorter the frequency, the larger the bandwidth.

The use of shorter frequencies (millimeter waves between 30GHz and 300GHz) for 5G networks is why 5G can be faster. This high-band 5G spectrum provides the expected boost not only in speed but also in capacity, low latency, and quality.However,5G download speed may differ widely by area.

According to the February 2020 issue of Fortune Magazine, average 5G speed measures done in Q3/Q4 2019 range from:

  • 220 megabytes per second (Mbps) in Las Vegas, 
  • 350 in New York,
  • 380 in Los Angeles,
  • 450 in Dallas,
  • to 550 Chicago,
  • and over 950 in Minneapolis and Providence approximatively.

Core Network

In this section we will provide a 5G core architecture overview and describe the 5G core components. We will also show how 5G architecture compares to the current 4G architecture.
The 5G core network, which enables the advanced functionality of 5G networks, is one of three primary components of the 5G System, also known as 5GS (source). The other two components are 5G Access network (5G-AN) and User Equipment (UE). The 5G core uses a cloud-aligned service-based architecture (SBA) to support authentication, security, session management and aggregation of traffic from connected devices, all of which requires the complex interconnection of network functions, as shown in the 5G core diagram.
The components of the 5G core architecture include:

  • User plane Function (UPF)
  • Data network (DN), e.g. operator services, Internet access or 3rd party services
  • Core Access and Mobility Management Function (AMF)
  • Authentication Server Function (AUSF)
  • Session Management Function (SMF)
  • Network Slice Selection Function (NSSF)
  • Network Exposure Function (NEF)
  • NF Repository Function (NRF)
  • Policy Control function (PCF)
  • Unified Data Management (UDM)
  • Application Function (AF)

The 5G network architecture diagram below illustrates how these components are associated.

What is 5G low latency? 

5G technology offers an extremely low latency rate, the delay between the sending and receiving information. From 200 milliseconds for 4G, we go down to 1 millisecond(1ms) with 5G. 
Just think about it.

A millisecond is 1/1000 of a second. 

The average reaction time for humans to a visual stimulus is 250 ms or 1/4 of a second. People are capped at around 190-200 ms with proper training.

Imagine now that your car could react 250 times faster than you.

Imagine it could also respond to hundreds of incoming information and can also communicate its reactions back to other vehicles and road signals all within milliseconds.

At 60 mph (100km/h), the reaction distance is about 33 yards (30 meters) before you pull on the brakes. With a 1ms reaction time, the car would only have rolled a bit more than one inch (less than 3 centimeters). 

5G use cases
Use cases associated with low latency are: 

In other words, 5G and IoT create the perfect match.

So, let’s see what makes 5G so different from 4G.

5G vs 4G – What is the difference?

The 5th generation of wireless networks addresses the evolution beyond mobile internet to massive IoT (Internet of Things) from 2019/2020. 

The main evolution compared with today’s 4G and 4.5G (aka LTE advanced, LTE-A, LTE+ or 4G+) is that, beyond data speed improvements, new IoT and critical communication use cases will require a new level of improved performance. 

  • For example, low latency provides real-time interactivity for services using the cloud: this is key to the success of self-driving cars, for example.   
  • 5G vs 4G also means at least x100 devices connected. 5G must be able to support 1 million devices for 0.386 square miles or 1 km2.
  • Also, low power consumption is what will allow connected objects to operate for months or years without the need for human assistance.

Unlike current IoT services that make performance trade-offs to get the best from current wireless technologies (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, etc.), 5G networks will be designed to bring the level of performance needed for massive IoT. 

It will enable a perceived entirely ubiquitous connected world.

In short, that’s what makes it transformational

5G and the previous mobile generations at a glance

In the last four decades, mobile phones, more than any other technology, have quietly changed our lives forever.

Do you remember how much you loved your 2G Nokia 3310?

  • 1G, the first generation of telecom networks (1979), let us talk to each other and be mobile
  • 2G digital networks (1991) let us send messages and travel (with roaming services)
  • 3G (1998) brought a better mobile internet experience (with limited success)
  • 3.5G brought a truly mobile internet experience, unleashing the mobile apps ecosystem
  • 4G (2008) networks brought all-IP services (Voice and Data), a fast broadband internet experience, with unified networks architectures and protocols
  • 4G LTE ( for Long Term Evolution), starting in 2009, doubled data speeds
  • 5G networks expand broadband wireless services beyond mobile internet to IoT and critical communications segments

Virtual networks (5G slicing) tailored to each use case.

5G will support all communication needs from low power Local Area Network (LAN) – like home networks, such as Wide Area Networks (WAN), with the right latency/speed settings.

This need is addressed today by aggregating a wide variety of communication networks (Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, LoRa, 3G, 4G, etc.)

And 5G is smarter.  

5G is designed to allow simple virtual network configurations to align network costs with application needs better. 

This new approach will allow 5G Mobile Network operators to catch a larger piece of the IoT market pie by delivering cost-effective solutions for low-band, low-power applications.  

What are the real 5G use cases?

Each new generation wireless network came with a new set of new usages. 

The next coming 5G will make no exception and will be focused on IoT and critical communications applications. 

In terms of the schedule, we can mention the following uses cases over time:

  • Fixed wireless access (from 2018-2019 onwards)
  • Enhanced mobile broadband with 4G fall-back (from 2019-2020-2021)
  • Massive M2M / IoT (from 2021-2022)
  • Ultra low-latency IoT critical communications (from 2024-2025)

Some critical applications like self-driving cars require very aggressive latency (fast response time) while they do not require fast data rates.  

Conversely, enterprise cloud base services with massive data analysis will require speed improvements more than latency improvements.

What does 5G mean for consumers?

5G for consumers means not just faster mobile internet, but mainly internet connectivity in many more objects than what you see today.

The car and the house are two examples of the big IoT revolution coming ahead, supported by 5G networks.

Samsung and other Android OEMs have introduced the first 5G smartphones in 2019. 148 5G phones are already commercially available, according to the GSA October 2020 report.

5G SIM cards are making their debut in 2019 and 2020. 

what is 5g all about


Discover the definition benefits of a 5G SIM for 5G virtualized networks.

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5G network

What’s the relation between 5G and satellites?

5G satellite communication -directly from the sky to the device- will soon become a reality.

Indeed, a new generation of satellites will bring onboard 5G capabilities to ensure full 5G coverage of the Earth, in addition to the terrestrial mobile 5G networks.

Specifically, with space-based systems, 5G will offer higher accessibility, reliability, and resilience, along with broadcasting and multi-broadcasting capabilities.

We expect 5G to support a wide variety of applications (e.g., agriculture, logistics, public safety) so that everybody in the world can be connected.

Along with space and mobile phone manufacturers, Thales Alenia Space supports the efforts of 3GPP to develop solutions embracing the vision of a single global space-based network fully integrated with mobile operators 5G networks. 

5G sattelite

Beginning of 2021, South Korean operator KT SAT, a subsidiary of the world’s first 5G commercial service provider Korea Telecom, has led a 5G satellite demonstration using the geostationary Koreasat 5A telecommunication satellite to provide a 5G network to remote areas. More recently, Hellas Sat performed a successful 5G demonstration in Greece: it consisted in backhauling the connection between a 5G Core Network and a 5G gNB through Hellas Sat 3 / Inmarsat S EAN satellite. Both satellites were manufactured by Thales Alenia Space. 

Will 5G technology be secure?

4G networks use the USIM application to perform strong mutual authentication between the user and his/her connected device and the networks.

The entity hosting the USIM application can be a removable SIM card or an embedded UICC chip. 

This strong mutual authentication is crucial to enable trusted services.

Today, security solutions are already a mix of security at the edge (device) and security at the core (network). 

Several security frameworks may co-exist in the future, and 5G is likely to re-use existing solutions used today for 4G networks and the cloud (SEs, HSM, certification, Over-The-Air provisioning, and KMS).

The standard for strong mutual authentication for 5G networks was finalized in 2018. 

The need for 5G security, privacy, and trust will be as strong as for 4G, if not stronger, with the increased impact of IoT services. 

Local SEs in devices can secure network access and support secure services such as emergency call management and virtual IoT networks. 

What are the differences between the previous generations of mobile networks and 5G?

A: The previous generations of mobile networks are 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.

First generation – 1G
1980s: 1G delivered analog voice.

Second generation – 2G
Early 1990s: 2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA– Code Division Multiple Access).

Third generation – 3G
Early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000).

Fourth generation – 4G LTE
2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband.

1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G all led to 5G, which is designed to provide more connectivity than was ever available before.

5G is a unified, more capable air interface. It has been designed with an extended capacity to enable next-generation user experiences, empower new deployment models and deliver new services.

With high speeds, superior reliability and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms. 5G will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitized logistics — and more — a reality.

How and when will 5G affect the global economy?

A: 5G is driving global growth.

• $13.1 Trillion dollars of global economic output
• $22.8 Million new jobs created
• $265B global 5G CAPEX and R&D annually over the next 15 years

Through a landmark 5G Economy study, we found that 5G’s full economic effect will likely be realized across the globe by 2035—supporting a wide range of industries and potentially enabling up to $13.1 trillion worth of goods and services.

This impact is much greater than previous network generations. The development requirements of the new 5G network are also expanding beyond the traditional mobile networking players to industries such as the automotive industry.

The study also revealed that the 5G value chain (including OEMs, operators, content creators, app developers, and consumers) could alone support up to 22.8 million jobs, or more than one job for every person in Beijing, China. And there are many emerging and new applications that will still be defined in the future. Only time will tell what the full “5G effect” on the economy is going to be.

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