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‘5G’ wireless services could revamp bandwidth usage

The rollout of 4G LTE services may be still a work in progress, but that doesn’t mean the folks who develop wireless technology aren’t already thinking about the future.

Ericsson, one of the giant telecommunications equipment providers, is exploring ideas for what might be included in a future “5G” wireless standard, Hans Vestberg, the company’s CEO, said.

One of the main things users notice about LTE is data speeds, but LTE has another important feature: It divides up bandwidth to different users on the fly, depending on what users need. So if you are downloading video, which requires lots of data, an LTE tower might give you access to more of its available bandwidth than it gives a user who is just sending text email.

That was an improvement over how previous data standards worked. In 3G systems, the video user and the email user might get the same share of a cell tower’s bandwidth.

In the future, Vestberg imagines expanding on that idea of dynamic bandwidth to other variables, notably latency and energy usage. In an effort to make highways safer in the future, cars may communicate their positions with each other wirelessly.

Those communications won’t require a lot of bandwidth, but the timing of the messages will be important, Vestberg noted. To avoid accidents, you’ll want them delivered right away.

Many technologists now envision having numerous sensors throughout homes and buildings to measure everything from temperature to the presence of water to detecting who’s in the house.

That type of data won’t require a lot of bandwidth nor does it necessarily require the immediacy of car-to-car communications, Vestberg said. Instead, what’s really important for those sensors is that the transmissions be kept low-power, so the batteries in the sensors last a long time.

A future 5G network might be able to adjust these and other variables on the fly, depending on the requirements of the devices accessing it, Vestberg said.

He noted, however, that these are still early days, and he declined to predict when 5G networks might start appearing. Most of the world is still using 2G or 3G networks, he noted, and the rollout of 4G services will be going on well into the future.

“We started with 3G in 1991, and that’s still our top-selling product,” he said.