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IoT Blog

How Does 5G Enable Enhanced Mobile Broadband?

As we discussed in our previous blog, A Closer Look at the Five Waves of 5G, new 5G technologies, applications, and use cases are not all arriving in a single big bang, but in a series of waves. And, as 2021 begins, it is clear that the third wave of 5G -- the extension of Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases beyond smartphones to routers, tablets, laptops, automobiles, gaming consoles, and other devices -- has arrived.  

The trends and technologies that have enabled this third wave however – including 5G’s use of more spectrum bands, Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), and a new core network -- are complicated, making it difficult for many professionals to understand how they should integrate 5G into their IoT business strategies.

In this blog post, and more extensively in our new white paper, 5G for Enhanced Mobile Broadband is Here, we try to simplify this third wave of 5G. We clarify how these trends and technologies improve the delivery of high-speed data to devices other than smartphones, while also offering an overview on how you can secure the growing volumes of data being generated by 5G devices. In doing so, we will provide you with a better understanding of how you can use this latest evolution of 5G to accelerate your organization’s digital transformation. 

What is Enhanced Mobile Broadband?

Enhanced Mobile Broadband (abbreviated eMBB) is one of three primary use cases that the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) telecommunications standards group defined at the outset for the new 5G New Radio (NR) standard. 3GPP used the eMBB use case along with the Massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) use cases to determine what types of functionality 5G NR needed.

As its name signifies, eMBB reflects an enhancement of the mobile broadband use cases supported by the 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard. eMBB use cases –  including improved automobile infotainment and Wi-Fi services, mobile high-definition video streaming, and 3D multi-player games – are all enabled by 5G NR’s faster data transmission speeds, lower latency, more capacity, and other performance improvements. 

What Happened with the First Two Waves of 5G?

To better understand how eMBB will be extended in third wave of 5G, it helps to understand the first two waves of 5G. 

The first wave of 5G delivered high-speed broadband cellular connectivity to homes, businesses, and other fixed locations. With 5G NR able to offer customers at these locations fast Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to the internet, they now had a wireless alterative to fiber optic and other wired technologies for broadband connectivity.

The second wave of 5G addressed eMBB use cases on people’s smartphones. To deliver these eMBB applications, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) needed to provide customers with strong 5G NR coverage in major population centers, offer some in-building coverage, and provide full mobility support. While NR is still not as available as LTE, most of these objectives are starting to be realized, and we are beginning to approach the end of Wave 2. 

How Will the Third Wave of 5G Extend eMBB?

The third wave of 5G builds upon the second wave of 5G, with hardware vendors and MNOs extending eMBB use cases beyond smartphones to other types of mobile devices, including mobile routers, tablets, laptops, connected cars, and gaming consoles. 

This extension of eMBB to additional devices enables a variety of new use cases, including real-time streaming of video from police cars, ambulances, and other public safety vehicles, mobile gaming systems that can be as responsive as wired ones, and augmented reality (AR) assistance applications that can guide technicians as they repair equipment in the field.

What Will the Fourth and Fifth Waves of 5G Bring?

Following the third wave of 5G we will see future waves of 5G address other connectivity use cases. For example, the fourth wave of 5G will support mMTC use cases that require low cost and low power devices, broad wireless coverage and massive device capacity. 

Meanwhile, the fifth wave of 5G will see the deployment of a variety of revolutionary URLLC use cases, including new enhanced Vehicle to Everything (eV2X) use cases, that require extremely low latency (e.g. < 1 millisecond) and ultra-high reliability (e.g. 99.999%). This fifth wave will also see the introduction of new AR, Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR) and other Extended Reality (XR) use cases that are also made possible with very low latency and ultra-high reliable wireless connectivity. However, these use cases – which include industrial automation, remote health care, and self-driving vehicles -- are still in their infancy today. 

What types of spectrum can 5G NR use?

One of the key reasons why the third wave of 5G has arrived is that the new radio technology used by 5G NR can be deployed in more spectrum than previous cellular technologies, with NR able to operate in both sub-6 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum bands (between 400 MHz and 6 GHz) and millimeter wave (mmWave) bands (between 24 GHz and 52 GHz). 

Not only does this spectrum agility greatly expand 5G NR capacity, but its ability to use mmWave spectrum allows it to achieve data rates that are not physically possible using sub-6 spectrum. At the same time, this spectrum agility makes it easy for companies to migrate their existing sub-6 LTE device designs to sub-6 NR designs, as the antenna specifications and certifications for LTE and sub-6 NR are very similar. 

Another advantage of 5G NR’s ability to use sub-6 bands is that this means it can use 3.5 GHz Citizen Band Radio Services (CBRS) spectrum in the United States. This band of spectrum was previously reserved for the military and satellite ground stations. However, starting in 2020, the U.S. government began allowing cellular operators and other organizations to use this spectrum for cellular communications. 

CBRS is particularly well-suited for private 5G and LTE networks that have critical communications requirements, as well as private networks deployed in convention centers, sport stadiums, energy and mining operations, manufacturing plants, agricultural sites, and shipping ports. In addition, while CBRS is only available in the US for now, many other countries are planning to allocate mid-band spectrum for the use of private networks. 

However, organizations should remember that while they’ll benefit from 5G NR’s spectrum agility, 5G NR devices that use mmWave spectrum come with antenna, interface, and other design, certification, and deployment challenges. Because of this, right now most companies are focusing on using mmWave for FWA use cases rather than eMBB and other mobile use cases. 

In particular, for now, the mobile use cases that most companies are looking at for mmWave usually involve providing people with broadband access when they are at event spaces, stadiums, corporate and university campuses, and other large outdoor spaces. In these locations, organizations can install a lot of 5G mmWave base stations, allowing people to connect to these stations even though these mmWave base stations have a limited range, and mmWave signals cannot penetrate walls and often bounce off objects.

What is the 5G Core Network?

In addition to 5G NR, 5G’s new radio design, 3GPP specified a new core network design for 5G, appropriated named 5G Core Network (5GCN). 5GCN delivers better operational capacity, efficiency, and performance than LTE’s Evolved Packet Core (EPC) network, further helping 5G support new eMBB use cases.

These improvements are thanks to several advancements found in 5GCN, including a new flexible, modern service-based architecture, 5GCN’s support for web-based RESTful APIs, and its ability to be easily deployed in the cloud. In addition, 5GCN can support not just NR, but also LTE, LTE-M, and NB-IoT technologies.

What is the difference between 5G Non-Standalone Mode and 5G Standalone Mode? 

Launching a new core network like 5GCN is not an overnight process, and the specification process for 5GNC also took longer than the specification process for 5G NR. 

To prevent this from delaying the roll-out of 5G NR services, 3GPP specified a way to connect NR base stations to MNOs’ existing EPC networks, with an architecture called Non-Standalone (NSA) mode. While this architecture enabled MNOs to deploy 5G NR without requiring a 5GCN, it does come with some drawbacks. 

For example, it requires the use of EN-DC, or E-UTRA NR Dual Connectivity, in which the NR device has to operate both a LTE radio and a NR radio at the same time. This means, if the device wants to get 5G service, it has to connect to an LTE base station on one band (e.g. a mid-band frequency) and a NR base station in another band (e.g. a low-band frequency). In addition, these LTE and NR bands need to be several hundreds of megahertz (MHz) apart to avoid intermodulation issues, limiting the number of bands that these devices can use. Both this band restriction and NSA’s need for devices to have simultaneous connections to both LTE and NR base stations limit NSA’s ability to provide 5G coverage.

Eventually, all 5G NR devices will use Standalone Mode (SA), in which NR base stations connect to new 5GCNs rather than existing EPC networks. Unlike NSA mode, devices using SA mode can operate without having to connect to an LTE base station as well as to an 5G NR base station. In addition, SA mode provides users with lower latency and extends the lives of their devices’ batteries. 

SA mode also makes it easier to optimize latency and security on private 5G NR networks. This lower latency makes SA much better for latency-sensitive applications like video conferencing, video calling, web browsing, remote computing, and gaming. Another advantage of SA is that it supports virtualization better than NSA, helping operators deploy and run their networks more efficiently. 

It will take time, but NSA will eventually give way to SA when all NR base stations are connected to 5GCNs, NR is deployed in most bands, and all NR devices support SA mode. While this transition takes place, customers should make sure they partner with IoT solution providers whose solutions support both NSA and SA modes. 

What is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing? 

In addition to more spectrum agility and a new core network, another update found in 5G is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS). DSS allows LTE and NR technologies to use the same band of wireless spectrum at the same time, with resources dynamically allocated to each technology based on demand. Like 5G NR spectrum flexibility and the new 5GCN design, DSS makes it easier for companies to deploy eMBB applications.

Unlike past cellular technologies, DSS enables MNOs to begin deploying NR networks without setting aside spectrum for these networks. This is because NR uses the same transmission format (OFDM) as LTE, and because NR can efficiently schedule around legacy LTE broadcast signals (MIB, SIB, CRS). In fact, with DSS an NR base station scheduler can dynamically decide every millisecond whether to schedule LTE, NR, or both types of signals on an available band of wireless spectrum, depending on the current demand for LTE and NR connectivity. 

Using DSS, MNOs can allocate most of their spectrum to LTE users as they roll out their NR networks, when user demand for NR connectivity is low. Then, as more users buy NR devices and demand for NR connectivity increases, they can use DSS to automatically allocate more spectrum to these NR users – unlike previous cellular technologies, where MNOs had to shut down support for older cellular technology so they could re-farm the spectrum for use by new cellular technology users.  

How DSS works, and its implications for the IoT market in particular, are discussed in more detail in this article, DSS Speeds the Rollout of 5G NR While Extending the Life of IoT Devices

How do I ensure my eMBB applications are secure?

With 5G NR enabling new eMBB applications that send more data at higher speeds across cellular networks than ever before, and exponentially more devices coming online, organizations are understandably concerned that cybercriminals and other malicious attackers might find it easier to steal or leak this data. 

These organizations can minimize the risk of such a data breach if they partner with experienced IoT solution providers who understand 5G NR’s vulnerabilities, and use an orchestrated, multi-layered, Defense-in-Depth approach to protect their data. Such a Defense-in-Depth approach puts in place multiple security layers on top of their 5G cellular service, to ensure their eMBB application data is protected whether it is on a device, being transmitted on 5G networks, or being integrated into the cloud.

IoT solution providers that have committed to a Defense-in-Depth security approach to IoT security offer their customers IoT solutions with the following mechanisms:
Secure boot, which ensures that the firmware used to boot a device is authentic, comes from a trusted source, and hasn’t been tampered with. 
Vulnerability management, with security processes that follow MITRE guidelines, as well as a system able to monitor the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) in real time to match new vulnerabilities to its solutions, and then automatically generate trouble tickets alerting them if they need to investigate or remediate issues with their solutions. 
High code quality, including documentation of all cryptographic mechanisms that are sanctioned for use in their products, and coding standards that are reviewed every 12 to 18 months, so they can avoid coding errors and bad coding practices that can make IoT solutions susceptible to attack. 
Device-to-cloud security, including the use of Datagram Transport Layer Security version 1.2, mutual authentication processes, devices equipped with unique, cryptographically secure keys in the factory, and a bootstrap process that also provisions devices with new, unique, random credentials every 90 days. 

Thanks to advanced Defense-in-Depth security mechanisms like the ones mentioned above, as well as 5G NR’s spectral agility, use of DSS, and the new 5GCN, companies are increasingly building new, secure eMBB applications that enable mobile devices other than smartphones to take advantage of the benefits of 5G. The third wave of 5G is beginning to crest – are you ready to ride it to success?

Start with Sierra and read our white paper, 5G for Enhanced Mobile Broadband is Here, to learn more about how you can use 5G and the IoT to develop and deploy new eMBB applications that unlock value in today’s connected economy.