The world of information technology is growing in leaps and bounds — and is predicted to grow even faster as telecommunications firms rush to get ahead before the introduction of a next-generation mobile network that could serve as “the foundation” of an increasingly internet-connected future.
Firms are gearing up by developing new mobile technologies ahead of the communications ministry’s goal of commercializing the fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless network by 2020 — a time frame that would put Japan “ahead of other countries,” the ministry said.
“The leap that 5G will bring to our society is going to be even more revolutionary than what we experienced after the advent of 1G, 2G, 3G or even 4G,” Akira Matsunaga, senior director with telecom giant KDDI Corp.’s R&D Strategy Division, said during a news conference last month. “We believe 5G will indeed become the foundation of our future society.”
Under the next-generation network, digital data transfers with speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second will be possible — a breakthrough that will allow mobile Internet connections up to 100 times faster than what the Long Term Evolution (LTE) network currently offers, mobile carrier NTT Docomo has said.
According to Yukihiko Okumura, executive research engineer with NTT Docomo’s 5G Radio Network Research Group, the new network will allow smartphone users to download full-length movies within mere seconds. This compared with the current mobile network that often takes several minutes to download similar videos.
“We believe the faster network will promote the use of ultrahigh definition videos such as 4K and 8K on not only mobile devices but in digital street signs, as well,” Okumura said.
The mobile carrier aims to put the cutting-edge technology into commercial use by 2020 and is currently planning demonstrations as early as May.
It plans to test how 5G would extend the use of virtual reality for tourists at a location near Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida Ward or by adopting it for internet-connected cars in the capital’s Odaiba waterfront area.
Firms are ramping up their efforts to develop the 5G system.
In February, KDDI announced that it had successfully carried out an outdoor experiment featuring the seamless transfer of data by quickly switching base network stations when data transmissions were blocked by objects.
In the experiment, conducted jointly with South Korea’s Samsung, KDDI used a high, 28GHz frequency band, which has been used for satellites but not for mobile internet. Higher bandwidth is suited for faster wireless data transfers but also prone to interference by obstructions.
The experiment, carried out in an urban area and on expressways where cars are driven at high speeds, showed that such a frequency is a feasible option for a 5G network even in urban settings like metropolitan Tokyo, KDDI said.
SoftBank Corp. has also joined the fray, with claims that it has become the world’s first carrier to commercialize a technology known as Massive MIMO, a potentially vital part of a successful 5G network that uses a large number of antennas to alleviate congestion.
Since September, the company has offered a high-speed data transmission service using the technology at crowded sites such as the Center Gai shopping street near the busy scramble crossing in central Tokyo’s Shibuya district, and at sports and concert venues like Tokyo Dome.
Introducing the technology will help the company develop its own 5G system, according to a SoftBank spokesman.
Industry experts say the new network is a game-changer, driving the development by firms as they seek to create a society where numerous internet-connected devices make people’s lives both more convenient and secure.
Last month, KDDI announced it will begin a joint experiment with security company Secom as early as May to test how the 5G network can upgrade current security systems.
Secom has said it believes 5G’s faster data-transmission speed will make it possible to transfer high-resolution moving images captured by security cameras to a control center without delay or pause.
“We expect 5G will be able to transfer moving images of a fine enough quality to identify a person’s face . . . or to read the numbers on a vehicle’s license plate clearly,” Secom official Hiroyuki Teramoto said at a news conference in Tokyo last month.
But faster speeds are not the only feature highlighted by the cutting-edge technology, as 5G is expected to allow more devices — from cars to rice cookers — to go online simultaneously, making the so-called internet of things (IoT) a more prominent part of people’s lives.
5G, which is able to handle up to 100 times more connected devices than LTE, will likely to become the “integral part” of an IoT society, the communications ministry said.
In a future where a multitude of everyday devices — from home appliances to self-driving cars — are controlled over the internet, providing abundant connectivity will be a prerequisite, NTT Docomo’s Okumura said.
Although household appliances usually do not require huge amounts of data, “we have to be ready for a society where an overwhelming number of objects are connected to the internet,” Okumura said. “We need an infrastructure that can handle a myriad of information coming from them.”
High-speed response time is another key aspect of 5G, which is believed to have less than 1 millisecond of latency, or the measure of delay from one networked point to another.
The ultralow latency will make the wireless network reliable enough to remotely control robotics used in operations that require high levels of accuracy, including construction work and medical surgery, KDDI’s Matsunaga said.
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