What is 5G? Future of wireless communications unifies 5G and Wi-Fi 6

The essential 5G glossary of key terms and phrases

To understand 5G, delve into various elements that encompass the new technology. This glossary of 5G keywords explains what 5G is and how its new features work.

The newest generation of cellular technology -- 5G -- has various moving parts and new features that can transform traditional networking. A good place to start with these shifting facets is to learn exactly what they are.

This 5G glossary dives into the definitions and relationships of 13 key terms and phrases regarding the next generation of mobile networks. With everything from the project group that developed 5G standards to the smallest technologies that make 5G possible, this essential 5G glossary can help establish a necessary vocabulary -- not only for the future of mobile networks but for networking in its entirety.

Explore the following 5G key words and phrases to gain an overall understanding of this technology.

5G explained: The essential 5G glossary

3GPP. Various telecommunications organizations -- including AT&T, Nortel Networks and British Telecom -- developed the 3rd Generation Partnership Project to create standards for 3G technology. Since then, 3GPP continued to develop standards for succeeding wireless generations, including 5G. This project uses standards based on the Global System for Mobile Communications specifications and radio access technology.

5G. Fifth-generation wireless, or 5G, is the next generation of cellular network technology. The goal of 5G is to increase network speed and responsiveness to provide real-time communications and to move data at faster speeds. Many new features -- all addressed in this 5G glossary -- accompany 5G.

5G NR. The set of standards called 5G New Radio replaces the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard, with goals to support wireless communication growth with enhanced electromagnetic radiation spectrum efficiency. In December 2017, 3GPP released 5G NR specifications and updated several performance and connectivity requirements for connections to qualify as 5G NR.

Fixed wireless. Fixed wireless broadband is one of two types of 5G services -- the other is cellular technology. Fixed wireless comprises wireless systems and devices in fixed locations, such as offices and homes. Subscribers receive internet access without a specific wired connection, while operators will likely pay less for deployments, as fiber optics at fixed wireless small cell sites will replace time-consuming fiber optic lines they traditionally roll out.

Latency. Network latency is the amount of delay or time packets take to travel between points. Latency is the main difference between 4G and 5G, as 4G offers latency of 60 to 98 milliseconds and 5G promises latencies perhaps as low as 3 ms. Latency this low enables 5G to provide users with real-time communication abilities, such as reliable audio and video streaming.

LTE. Long-Term Evolution is a 4G standard that sets the groundwork for 5G technology. LTE offers increased capacity and speed, as well as high peak data transfer rates. Also, 3GPP developed LTE to unify wireless broadband standards globally. LTE supports various types of traffic, including voice, video and messaging.

5G benefits
These benefits reflect the various terms in this 5G glossary and show what 5G can bring to organizations.

MmWave. Millimeter wave is a band of radio spectrum between 30 GHz and 300 GHz and provides high-speed broadband connections to transfer data. This is the spectrum on which 5G operates. The mmWave spectrum travels at high frequencies in short, direct wavelengths, which is called line-of-sight travel. Due to the nature of mmWave, atmospheric changes -- like increased humidity -- and physical walls can affect performance and signal strength.

MIMO. MIMO stands for multiple input, multiple output -- which is a transmission technology comprising multiple antennas for communication at sources and their destinations. MIMO uses smart antenna technology that combines available antennas for fewer potential errors in data transmissions and for optimized data speeds. In 5G terms, 5G has massive MIMO to help providers prepare their networks to support increased amounts of data.

Network slicing. Network slicing is an architecture that separates virtual networks into individual partitions -- or slices -- that support different services and applications, all residing on the same hardware. Each slice has its own architecture, management and security. This architecture divides the user plane and the control plane so the user planes move closer to the network edge. Network slicing is a main feature of 5G.

OFDM. Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing is a method of encoding data on multiple carrier frequencies: One data stream divides over separate channels with different frequencies. These separate channels help reduce and avoid interference. OFDM encoding is part of 5G's framework, with channels between 100 MHz and 800 MHz.

RAN. Radio access networks connect devices to various parts of networks through radio connections. The most recent RAN evolution divides the user plane and control plane into separate elements, which enables various 5G features, such as network slicing and MIMO, to function properly.

RTC. With real-time communications, users can instantly share information and data with little to no latency. RTC provides direct access from sources to destinations, as these live communications don't require storage. RTC is a touted promise of 5G networks.

Small cell. Small cells are physically small, low-powered radio frequency base stations built to improve wireless network efficiency. Small cells have the capacity to transfer low-, medium- and high-band data spectrums, such as mmWave. Because of 5G's high speeds with limited ranges, small cells will boost and ensure reliable signal strength to benefit 5G signals. Unlike cell towers, small cells are located every few blocks instead of miles.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2019

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