Can 5G VoIP Be a Reality? Or a Pipedream?

Posted on: 2018-06-01 | Categories:SIP

Discussions about the ultrafast connections and high-capacity of 5G networks are making headlines again. Even though many consumers regard 4G networks as normal, the speed and coverage are nowhere near universal. Which brings us to the question, why is everyone so excited about 5G when 4G networks are still evolving?

5G Networks and VoIP

These discussions are particularly pertinent to the VoIP industry. Although quite a few providers offer HD voice, it’s not the default option for most plans. Business clients often have to upgrade in order to get high-quality audio on their phones. Some telecom operators offer voice over LTE features but yet again, it’s not very common.

There is genuine excitement about the rollout of 5G networks among telephone operators, VoIP service providers, handset manufacturers and other entities involved in the ecosystem. Let’s take a quick look at what is 5G and what it can do for VoIP.

1G to 5G

First of all, what exactly does 5G mean? The G stands for a generation of wireless technology. So 5G is the fifth generation of technology that carriers have rolled out so far. The first generation consisted of analog cellular connections. 2G technologies like CDMA and GSM were the first digital connections. Many of us remember the jump to 3G technologies which brought faster connections for smaller devices like smartphones. 3G made it possible for phones and tablets to browse the Internet on the go.

With 4G LTE speeds, mobile devices started the journey to supplant desktops and laptops as the preferred method of accessing websites. Consumers are now able to access even gigabit level speeds with 4G networks. For some customers, their cellular LTE speed handily beats home broadband! Historically, each generation of wireless technologies have been incompatible with the previous generation for many reasons. 5G networks continue the same trend.

What Does 5G VoIP Bring to the Table?

Without getting into the technical details, 5G will use a high spectrum band. This will use higher frequency signals when compared to 4G networks. There will be much less congestion in this new band, thus allowing more devices to join the ever-growing network. 5G will be much faster than 4G, even though the latter has not yet achieved peak speeds.

But the benefits of 5G extend beyond mere speed. While every successive generation of wireless cellular technologies has promised faster speeds, 5G brings more to the table. 5G network will be:

  • Faster
  • Have lower latency
  • Able to connect more devices

Low Latency, 5G, and VoIP

Faster speeds are almost a necessity at this point. Consumers’ expectations with regard to the speed of their data connections continue to rise. Just when it seems that the carriers catch up to expectations, new applications arise that demand faster connections. For instance, while 3G was fast it still wasn’t enough to support widespread video chat. Now with 4G speeds, consumers are demanding high-speed connections that can handle group video chat! As expected, 5G speeds will be much faster than anything we have seen with 4G so far.

But the real benefit of 5G to VoIP is that it will have low latency. VoIP is real-time communication which means that the latency is just as important as the speed of the network. 4G networks typically have a latency of 40ms to 60ms. 5G could bring that down to 10ms or less! That’s quite an improvement and very much crucial to VoIP.

5G networks will also have a higher capacity to handle more devices. This will become essential as the Internet of Things continues to grow. The current networks were not designed to handle billions of devices, many of which are sensors that will constantly send data to the cloud and vice versa.

VoIP – Reality or a Dream?

There is a catch to 5G networks. To provide those speeds, low latency and capacity, 5G requires more access points that are situated closer to each other than 4G. That is because the signals will not travel very far. In dense urban areas, experts predict that access points might have to be built into rooftops, lamp posts and even the bricks of new buildings!

All of this requires significant investment into network infrastructure by carriers. While there are obvious benefits for consumers and software developers, there is no clear monetization path for the network owners themselves. Much of the benefits of 5G is speculative or in other words, we can’t see it in daily life yet. 5G might well be required if we want autonomous cars in the future but what’s the incentive for carriers to invest in the upgrade?

Whether 5G becomes the reality or will remain a dream depends on the timescale. If anyone expects 5G to become commonplace by 2020, they’re in for a shock. But in the long-term? Expect 5G to become the new normal.