How Does 5G Work?

5G To Be Available to 85 Percent of the World’s Population by 2029

16 Min
May 02, 2024
5G and 6G Technology

What to Expect:

Does 5G offer the best conditions for advancing digitalization with data volume and speed? Will 5G catapult digitalization to the next level with big data and networking in all sectors of the economy?

Theoretically, yes, because 5G technology offers a multiplication of data rates and short latency times compared to 4G/LTE. Real-time-sensitive processes such as autonomous driving or intelligent industrial automation should be able to break new ground with 5G. How far has standardization progressed? What are the benefits of 5G for IoT in the automotive industry, digitalization in the healthcare sector, infrastructure in smart cities or automation in logistics? What is the added value of a private 5G license for company logistics?

1. Status Quo

What is 5G?

Before focusing on the topic of digitalization for companies, it is important to explain: What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology and the successor to 4G (LTE). 5G offers significant improvements over previous generations in several key areas and aims to meet the growing data and connectivity demands of the modern world.

Here are some of the most important advantages of 5G in comparison to the LTE mobile communications standard:

The outstanding performance features include data rates of up to 20 Gbit/s per radio cell in the downlink and up to 10 Gbit/s in the uplink. These high transmission rates enable extremely fast downloads and efficient uploads of data, which is particularly advantageous in densely populated urban areas or at major events.

The latency, i.e. the delay with which data is transmitted over the network, can be reduced to just under one millisecond. This is particularly important for applications that require immediate responsiveness, such as autonomous vehicles, telemedicine, and industrial automation.

In terms of network density, the technology supports up to one million subscribers per square kilometer, a capacity that is critical in urban environments or mass events to ensure reliable and continuous connectivity.

In addition, communication remains stable even at high speeds of up to 500 km/h, which is crucial for applications in high-speed trains, on highways, or in other fast-moving environments.

The use of 5G is also beneficial for applications such as autonomous driving, real-time localization, positioning, factory automation or maintenance with 5G smart glasses. In addition, 5G enables greater connectivity, as significantly more devices can communicate via the network. As a result, 5G ensures a more widespread use of the Internet of Things and lays the foundation for many successes in digitalization. The examples already show that the efficiency of 5G is very high. It is clear that new fields of application are also possible that go beyond the previous LTE standard.

Frequency Bands

Mobile Communications with Wide Network Coverage

The 5G network comprises various frequency bands, which can be roughly divided into three categories. Each country and each network operator can use different frequencies within these bands, depending on local regulations and available frequencies.

Low-Band 5G
These frequencies are below 1 GHz and offer a large range and penetration, but are slower in terms of data transmission rate. They are often used to provide coverage in rural and suburban areas.

Mid-Band 5G
These frequencies are typically between 1 GHz and 6 GHz. They offer a good balance between range and speed, and are at the heart of many 5G networks worldwide.

High-Band 5G
These frequencies are between 24 GHz and 40 GHz (and above). They offer very high data transmission rates and low latency, but have a shorter range. They are mainly used in densely populated urban areas where high data rates are required.

The Current 5G

Release 18 = 5G Advanced Will Be Adopted in 2024

The further development of 5G takes place in the working groups of the international organization 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). 3GPP Release 17 for 5G was completed in March 2022. Since not all plans were implemented in Release 17 due to the pandemic, it is becoming clear that Release 18 will be very complex. Work on Release 18, also known as 5G Advanced, began at the end of 2021, and is scheduled for completion in 2024.

5G Release 18 is set to usher in a new era. The 5G Advanced era. This also includes a new logo. The most important innovations relate to the system architecture and services (SA2). Highlights include improved support for extended reality (XR) such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In addition, edge computing will be further expanded in the second phase in order to bring computing power closer to the end user and thus shorten response times.

In addition, improved localization through 5GC Location Services is planned. This will enable more accurate and reliable localization services. In the third phase, network slicing will be further optimized to enable more flexible and efficient network segmentation. Additionally, the standalone architecture will be further improved to enable a more independent and robust 5G infrastructure.

Network automation will also be optimized in the third phase to improve network management and efficiency. Optimizations are planned specifically for campus networks, which are tailored to the unique requirements of such networks. 5G multicast broadcast services will be further developed to enable more efficient transmission of content to multiple recipients.

Personal IoT networks will be supported by new technologies that enable a better integration and management of IoT devices. Satellite communications will also be further developed in the second phase, including an enhanced satellite backhaul that improves coverage and performance in hard-to-reach areas.

Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) will be further enhanced, with a focus on latency optimization to support critical applications. The multimedia telephone service IMS will also be further developed to enable better integration and quality of voice and video services over the 5G network. Finally, in the third phase, the entire 5G system architecture will be further developed to further improve network capacities and services.

Facts & Figures

According to a report by Ericsson, the 5G mobile communications standard should be available to more than 85 percent of the world’s population by the end of 2029. In the lead are North America and India. According to a report by the Canadian-Indian market research company Precedence Research, the global 5G market will grow by 125 percent between 2023 and 2033. North America is expected to dominate the market for digitalization in the automotive industry and have the largest share of the 5G market. The Asia-Pacific region, particularly China, is expected to grow at the fastest rate during the forecast period 2024 to 2033. Factors contributing to this growth include the early adoption of 5G-enabled vehicles, rising demand for smart 5G solutions for healthcare digitization, government support for infrastructure, and increasing consumer acceptance of advanced technologies

Among the vertical industries, the automotive industry will have the largest 5G market share in 2023. 5G will be increasingly used to enhance vehicle functions and capabilities, as well as drive development in the areas of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), autonomous driving, vehicle-to-network (V2N), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P), and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V). In addition, the industrial machinery segment is poised for significant growth due to the introduction of 5G in the digitalization of industry.

The 6th generation (6G) mobile market is expected to grow by almost 35 percent by 2030. The fastest growth of the 6G market and the associated 6G connectivity and 6G IoT penetration is expected in the APAC region. Extended reality (XR) such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), blockchain, enterprise AI and machine learning, robotics, and machine vision will emerge as the dominant drivers of the 6G market by 2030.

2. In Practice

Solutions with 5G

Advantages in Real-Time Integration

The technological properties of 5G, in particular high data rates and low latency, enable concepts for solutions with RTLS and process optimization, as well as concepts for data communication in the process industry, such as M2M communication, and for the digitalization of logistics. The use of 5G in these areas means that applications that previously relied on wired data communication will be able to communicate wirelessly via 5G in comparable quality in the future. This offers considerable advantages, but does not mean that fixed cabling will be completely replaced.

For permanently installed production machines in factories, for example, the switch from cable connections to wireless 5G does not bring any direct added value. Instead, the real benefits of 5G lie in the real-time integration of mobile equipment, robots, transportation systems, and other dynamic components. This flexibility and mobility is particularly valuable in rapidly changing and adaptable production environments.

5G enables significant advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) thanks to its ability to establish fast, reliable, and dense connections between a wide range of devices. This paves the way for innovation in areas such as Industry 4.0 and 5G, connected vehicles, and smart living by enabling customized connectivity in heterogeneous IoT environments. Overall, 5G provides the technical foundation for a new era of the digital economy and advanced industrial applications.

Robots with 5G

5G Networks with OPC Foundation’s OPC UA

Stationary and mobile industrial robots or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in warehouses can communicate via the OPC UA standard from the OPC Foundation and a 5G network. This facilitates both communication and collaboration between these robots. The transport robots move boxes through the warehouse using both wired and wireless connections.

The stationary robots are connected via a wired infrastructure. Mobile robotics are connected via a private 5G network. Wired Ethernet is used in the warehouse’s network infrastructure. This is part of the mobile robots, which contain devices such as the PLC and sensors. The stationary robots are also connected to the factory network and the local industrial network via the wired infrastructure. The industrial 5G network is used to network the stationary and mobile robots with each other. A supporting Layer3 PDU session enables IP-based interconnectivity between the PLC of the stationary robot and the PLC of the mobile robot. This typically happens with cycle times of a few milliseconds. OPC UA Safety also exchanges time-critical safety messages via this network to ensure deterministic end-to-end transmission.

Localization with 5G

5G for Shopping Cart Tracking at Spar

In 2021, the Spar Austria Group set up a 5G test store in Floridsdorf, Vienna, Austria. Within the Interspar store, smart shopping carts communicate via a unique 5G campus network installed on site. The shopping carts are tracked on their way through the store with an accuracy of 20 centimeters. The data collected provides information about the shopping carts’ routes, the duration of shopping trips, and checkout times, all of which are recorded anonymously. With this information about customers’ routes, the store can effectively manage queues at the checkouts and avoid long waiting times. In addition, the tracking system acts as an anti-theft device by triggering an alarm if a shopping cart exceeds the set boundaries.

5G in the Supermarket
Spar Austria Group optimizes the Customer Journey with 5G

“With the intelligent shopping cart and 5G technology, we can precisely track the location and routes of the shopping carts. No customer data is collected, only anonymized information about the path of the shopping cart, which helps Spar optimize the shopping experience for customers.”

Andreas Kranabitl

CIO, Spar Austria Group

Spar Austria Group Logo

Energy Efficiency and 6G

Gallium Nitride and 6G at Fraunhofer IAF

Part of the “Towards Zero Power Electronics” project of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF, two variants of gallium nitride radio modules were developed – the gallium nitride-on-silicon carbide radio module and the gallium nitride-on-silicon radio module. These modules save energy for the Internet of Things and enable energy-efficient communication. The efficiency at 26 GHz has been increased from 10 to 30 percent. With gallium nitride, the efficiency and performance required for 6G mobile communication can be achieved. The world’s first transmission performance of 100 Gbit/s over a free-field distance of 500 meters was achieved by Fraunhofer IAF in cooperation with partners.

Expert Insight

Are You Satisfied With the Fiber Optic and 5G Expansion in Germany, Especially in Comparison to Your International Locations?

“No, not really. The expansion of fiber optics in Germany is progressing far too slowly. Even metropolitan areas are not yet fully equipped. Although the expansion of the 5G network is making steady progress, it still falls short of requirements, especially in structurally weak areas. This is already much more advanced in other countries, as can be seen in Korea, for example, where a nationwide 5G network has been available for some time.”

Christian Wolf

Managing Director, Turck

Logo turck
3. Panorama

Advantages: Is 5G a Key Technology for the Internet of Things?

In all cases, 5G means the further development of IoT solutions in all sectors of the economy. However, the following sections will also show that the combination of different wireless technologies is best suited to meet all requirements. This section summarizes the most important advantages of 5G radio waves.

Data Transmission

5G is characterized by higher data transmission rates and significantly lower latency times. This means that data can be transmitted almost in real time, which is crucial for applications that require fast response times. This applies to all applications that run in real time.

Higher Device Capacity

Compared to 4G, 5G networks can support a much higher number of devices per unit area. This is particularly important for IoT scenarios such as smart cities or automated industrial plants, where thousands, or even millions of sensors and devices need to be connected.


5G offers higher reliability than older technologies. This is crucial for critical IoT applications where failures or interruptions can have serious consequences, for example, in health monitoring or industrial control systems.

Network Slicing

One of the most innovative features of 5G is the ability to divide a physical network into multiple virtual networks (known as ‘network slicing’). Each of these virtual networks can be tailored to the specific requirements of a particular application or service, enabling customized connectivity in heterogeneous IoT environments.

Outlook: What is 6G?

The next generation of mobile communications is expected to require new frequency bands to increase transmission rates and capacities, and enable innovative services. It is expected that 6G will use a wide range of frequency bands from below 1 GHz to above 100 GHz. The lower frequency bands are still essential to ensure nationwide coverage and to optimize connections within buildings.

Experts assume that the maximum possible transmission speeds per end device will be 50, 100 and 200 Gbit/s under optimal conditions. For comparison: 5G achieves a peak speed of 20 Gbit/s. The targeted average speeds in everyday operation are specified as 300 to 500 Mbit/s (for 5G: 100 Mbit/s). The target latency times are between 0.1 and 1 millisecond. In future, the telecommunications sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will focus on defining the technical specifications, the submission process, and the evaluation criteria for the 6G interface technologies. The ITU has already played a central role in the standardization of previous generations of mobile communications technologies from GSM to 5G.

With theoretically achievable data rates of up to 200 Gbit/s, 6G is expected to drive applications in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT in healthcare, and autonomous driving. The goal is the sustainable connectivity for the Internet of Things.

At the World Radio Conference in December 2023, it was pointed out that AI-supported autonomous network management could even be able to monitor, optimize, and repair radio infrastructures itself. The air interface could also be improved by AI models. In conjunction with AI, 6G would enable increasingly automated and intelligent network services, including automated data management and real-time communication with UWB or BLE. All services would be provided without latency restrictions.

The term “digital health services” covers procedures such as interactive remote monitoring and care, telematics in healthcare, connected ambulances, tele-rehabilitation, and facilitating the conduct of clinical trials. 6G could help improve services in rural areas and bring them in line with those in urban areas. In summary, 6G will improve connectivity between IoT devices and IoT solutions as a whole.

Partners Spezialized in 5G/6G Solutions

5G and RFID

Will 5G or 6G Replace RFID Technology?

It is unlikely that 5G will completely replace RFID, as both technologies have their own specific advantages in different application areas. Instead, they could be used in complementary ways to improve efficiency and functionality in different scenarios.

RFID is mainly used for identification and tracking tasks that do not require high bandwidths or high speeds. Typical applications include warehouse management, access control, asset tracking and contactless payment systems. RFID tags are cost-effective and do not require a power source, making them ideal for passive tracking systems.

5G, on the other hand, is designed for high-bandwidth, high-latency applications that require fast and continuous data transmission, such as video transmissions, real-time communications, and complex IoT networks. 5G is suitable for applications where a large number of devices are networked and high data rates need to be transmitted.

In complex IoT systems, 5G and RFID could work together to implement various aspects of data transmission and device management. RFID could be used for industrial identification, condition monitoring, digitalization of the supply chain, traceability, predictive maintenance, or for permanent inventory. Together with sensors, temperature monitoring is also possible. 5G handles communication between devices and the transmission of large volumes of data.

5G network slicing could create special virtual networks for managing RFID data traffic, which could improve the efficiency of systems that use both technologies.

RFID remains the more cost-effective solution for simple tracking, localization, and identification tasks. The deployment of 5G-enabled devices and infrastructure costs may be too high for some applications where RFID is currently used.

RFID tags are typically passive and do not require their own power source, making them ideal for applications where low power consumption is important. In contrast, 5G devices require a power source, which could limit their use in some scenarios.

The Complementary Use of 5G and Wireless Radio Technologies

Each wireless technology has specific advantages and disadvantages.

  • Proprietary wireless solutions such as ZigBee or Bluetooth are suitable for shorter communication distances of less than 100 meters and data rates of significantly less than 100 Mbit/s, depending on the configuration.
  • LPWAN technologies such as LoRa or SigFox achieve data rates of just over 100 kbit/s, but have ranges of around ten kilometers and more.

    On the plus side of these two wireless systems are the low energy requirements of the wireless components and the possibility of reaching a high number or density of users in a network. Both aspects lead to the high cost efficiency of these low-power technologies. In contrast, WiFi/WLAN systems and solutions are based on mobile radio technologies from 3G to 5G.

  • WiFi/WLAN ensures high data rates even beyond 100 Mbit/s at comparatively shorter ranges of less than 100 meters. Energy consumption is higher than with LPWAN technologies. Advantage: WiFi infrastructures are widely used in factory and logistics environments.
  • Narrowband IoT is also a low-power IoT technology that can support a large number of IoT devices and is based on 5G.

Cooperation: Operators, Regulatory Authorities, and Technology Providers

The introduction of 5G has revolutionized the mobile communications landscape by enabling a significant improvement in network speed and capacity. Radio masts play a central role in this as they provide the necessary infrastructure to transmit the carrier frequencies required for communication between the devices and the base stations. These base stations are crucial for the operation of the radio cells, which cover smaller areas and thus ensure nationwide coverage.

Mobile communications and, in particular, mobile phone masts are therefore integral components of the 5G network, as they ensure the distribution of signals. The antennas attached to these masts receive and transmit signals between the devices and the base stations. The Federal Network Agency plays an important role here, as it monitors the allocation of frequencies and compliance with the legal framework to ensure the smooth operation of mobile networks.

Receiving antennas on the end devices pick up the signals emitted by the mobile phone masts and thus enable a stable connection. The expansion of the 5G infrastructure, including the construction of new radio masts and the improvement of existing facilities, is therefore of great importance in order to fully exploit the benefits of 5G technology. Cooperation between operators, regulatory authorities, and technology providers is essential in order to establish a powerful and nationwide 5G mobile network.

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