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Cisco Meraki Documentation

5G Unveiled: Transforming the Way We Connect and Communicate

What is 5G?

5G, or fifth-generation cellular technology, is the latest iteration of mobile network standards aimed at providing faster, more reliable, and lower-latency wireless communication. It represents a significant leap forward in telecommunications technology, promising to revolutionize the way we connect, communicate, and interact with the world around us.


The evolution from 1G to 5G represents a journey of continuous improvement in mobile communication technology, with each generation building upon the successes and addressing the limitations of its predecessors to meet the growing demands of consumers and businesses for faster, more reliable, and more versatile wireless connectivity.


Key Differences from Previous Generations:

  1. Speed: 5G offers significantly faster data speeds compared to its predecessors. While 4G LTE typically provides download speeds of up to 100 Mbps (megabits per second), 5G has the potential to deliver speeds in the range of gigabits per second (Gbps), enabling near-instantaneous downloads of large files, high-definition video streaming, and immersive gaming experiences.

  2. Latency: Latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel between devices over the network. 5G technology dramatically reduces latency, aiming for response times as low as 1 millisecond (ms) or less. This ultra-low latency plays a pivotal role in scenarios demanding instantaneous interaction, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and remote surgical procedures.

  3. Capacity and Bandwidth: 5G networks offer vastly increased capacity and bandwidth compared to previous generations. This means that more devices can connect simultaneously to the network without experiencing congestion or slowdowns. It also enables the support of massive Internet of Things (IoT) deployments, facilitating the growth of smart cities, connected vehicles, and industrial automation.

  4. Technology: Previous iterations of cellular technology predominantly depended on conventional macrocell towers for coverage. In contrast, 5G networks employ a blend of macrocells, small cells, and sophisticated antenna technologies like beamforming and massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) to bolster coverage, capacity, and efficiency. Moreover, 5G harnesses higher-frequency bands, such as mmWave (millimeter wave), to provide lightning-fast speeds particularly in densely populated urban regions.

  5. Use Cases: 5G opens up a wide range of new use cases and applications across various industries, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), cloud gaming, remote healthcare , smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and industrial automation. Its high speed, low latency, and massive connectivity capabilities make it well-suited for powering the next generation of digital innovation.


5G Architecture

What is 5G NSA(Non Stand Alone)

The initial deployment of the 5G cellular network utilized 5G NSA, leveraging the existing 4G LTE network core. This approach facilitated quicker 5G rollouts, as network operators focused on investing in the necessary infrastructure for transitioning to 5G SA.

Within 5G NSA deployments, the 5G radio access network (RAN) integrates with the pre-existing 4G LTE core network. This integration enables the repurposing of 4G core network functionalities, including authentication, session management, and mobility management.  5G NSA represents an advancement over 4G LTE, offering higher speeds and reduced latency compared to its predecessor in cellular technology.



The above figure illustrates the NSA architecture that utilizes 5G NR and 4G Core. 


Key Features of NSA

  1. Shared Signaling: Both 4G LTE and 5G radio access technologies are used simultaneously, with the control plane (signaling) traffic anchored in the LTE core network. This means that signaling messages for both 4G and 5G devices are routed through the LTE network.

  2. Faster Deployment: 5G NSA offers a quicker path to 5G deployment compared to standalone 5G (SA) because it leverages existing 4G infrastructure. This enables mobile operators to introduce 5G services more rapidly and cost-effectively by upgrading their existing networks rather than building new standalone 5G networks from scratch.

  3. Enhanced Coverage: Since 5G NSA networks utilize the coverage footprint of existing 4G LTE networks, they can provide broader geographic coverage, especially in rural or remote areas where standalone 5G deployment may not be economically feasible.

  4. Early Access to 5G Features: While 5G NSA does not fully leverage the capabilities of standalone 5G architecture, it allows for early access to certain 5G features and functionalities. This enables operators to offer basic 5G services such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) while preparing for full-scale standalone deployment.


What is 5G SA (StandAlone)

This deployment mode of 5G is where the Radio Access Network (RAN) and Core Network are based on 5G technology and don't use the existing 4G infrastructure.  This allows for the full potential of 5G's capabilities, including ultra-low latency, higher data rates, and massive connectivity.

5G SA represents the next phase of 5G deployment, delivering enhanced performance, advanced functionalities, and sustainable scalability when contrasted with 5G NSA. This deployment mode empowers operators to fully exploit the transformative possibilities of 5G technology, enabling the provision of diverse and innovative services and experiences to both consumers and businesses.



The above figure shows architecture of 5G SA which encompasses 5G NR and 5G Core


Key Features of SA

  1. Separation of Signaling: Unlike 5G NSA deployments, where signaling traffic is anchored in the existing 4G LTE core network, 5G SA networks have their own dedicated signaling infrastructure. This enables more efficient signaling processing and reduces latency.

  2. Use Cases and Services: 5G SA networks support a wide range of advanced services and use cases, including ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC), massive machine-type communication (mMTC), and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). These services benefit from the native 5G architecture's improved performance and capabilities.

  3. Network Slicing: 5G SA networks enable network slicing, a technology that allows operators to split the network into multiple virtual networks with different characteristics and capabilities. This enables customized service offerings tailored to specific use cases or customer requirements.

  4. Future-Proofing: By deploying standalone 5G networks, operators can future-proof their infrastructure and prepare for upcoming technological advancements and evolving user demands.


Unlocking ENDC: Enhancing Network Performance with Dual Connectivity


In Non-StandAlone (NSA) deployments, the device remains connected to 4G LTE as it serves as an anchor for 5G connectivity.  With a few exceptions most 5G deployments around the world today use NSA architecture.  

Evolved-Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network (E-UTRAN) New Radio (NR) Dual Connectivity (ENDC) is a technology that allows cellular devices to have simultaneous access to both 4G LTE as well as 5G New Radio (NR).  This enables seamless handover between the two networks.  It combines the bandwidth of both 4G and 5G to enhance data speeds and performance.  

This not only combines the coverage of 4G LTE but also the low latency of 5G NR enabling users an improved network experience. If a user were to move to an area where 5G is unavailable, they would seamlessly continue using 4G LTE.

ENDC represents a step in the progression towards  5G implementation. It enables network operators to utilize their current 4G LTE infrastructure while progressively integrating 5G NR technology. This gradual method facilitates a seamless transition to 5G without requiring a complete overhaul of existing networks.


Understanding the Spectrum

5G spectrum spans a wide range of frequency bands.  The spectrum is divided into three main categories including low band, mid band, and high band (also known as mmWave).



  • Frequency Range: Below 1 GHz (typically around 600 MHz to 900 MHz).

  • Characteristics:

    • Wide coverage: Low-band frequencies can propagate over long distances and penetrate through obstacles such as buildings and foliage.

    • Limited capacity: Low-band spectrum offers lower data speeds and capacity compared to higher frequency bands.

    • Suitable for rural and suburban areas: Low-band spectrum is ideal for providing wide-area coverage in less densely populated regions where high data speeds are not a primary requirement.

  • Use Cases:

    • Extended coverage in rural areas.

    • Indoor coverage in buildings and structures.

    • IoT applications require wide coverage and low power consumption.



  • Frequency Range: Typically between 1 GHz and 6 GHz 

  • Characteristics:

    • Balances coverage and capacity: Mid-band frequencies offer a balance between coverage and capacity, providing faster data speeds and better capacity than low-band while offering better coverage than high-band.

    • Suitable for urban and suburban areas: Mid-band spectrum is well-suited for deploying 5G networks in urban and suburban areas where a mix of coverage, capacity, and data speeds is required.

    • Moderate propagation characteristics: Mid-band signals can propagate over moderate distances and offer reasonable penetration through obstacles.

  • Use Cases:

    • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services in urban areas.

    • Fixed wireless access (FWA) deployments providing high-speed internet to homes and businesses.

    • IoT applications require moderate coverage and data rates.


High-Band (mmWave):

  • Frequency Range: Above 24 GHz (typically in the range of 24 GHz to 100 GHz).

  • Characteristics:

    • Ultra-fast data speeds: High-band frequencies offer the potential for extremely high data speeds, reaching multiple gigabits per second.

    • Limited coverage: mmWave signals have shorter range and are susceptible to signal blockage by obstacles such as buildings and trees.

    • High capacity: mmWave spectrum provides high capacity, making it suitable for supporting large numbers of devices and high-bandwidth applications.

  • Use Cases:

    • Dense urban environments: mmWave spectrum is ideal for delivering ultra-fast broadband services in densely populated urban areas where high data demand exists.

    • High-capacity venues: mmWave can be deployed in stadiums, convention centers, and other high-traffic venues to provide high-speed connectivity to a large number of users simultaneously.

    • Fixed wireless access (FWA) for high-speed broadband to homes and businesses in urban areas.


C Band

The C band falls within the mid-band spectrum range, which offers a balance between coverage and capacity.  The C band refers to a specific range of radio frequencies allocated for various communication purposes, including satellite communications, and wireless broadband services.  Its Frequency Range is between 3.7 GHz - 4.7 GHz.

The C band has emerged as a key frequency range for 5G deployment in many regions around the world. Mobile operators and telecommunications companies are acquiring spectrum licenses in the C band to build out their 5G networks and offer enhanced mobile broadband services to consumers and businesses.

The C band offers significant capacity for delivering high-speed data services, making it suitable for supporting applications such as video streaming, online gaming, and video conferencing. Compared to lower frequency bands, such as the sub-6 GHz range, the C band can provide higher data rates and better capacity while offering wider coverage compared to higher frequency mmWave bands.

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