5G Key Technologies

This article provides an overview of several of the most important new technologies developed for the 5G Networks. To meet the 5G design vision, service and performance requirements, new technologies were required; some are extensions of 4G and, some are developed explicitly for 5G.

Related articles:

5G Design Use Cases

5G network performance and design goals are commonly described with three core targets.

5G Usage Scenarios Design Triangle

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

Below is a chart of 5G performance target parameters.

IndicatorDescription5G target
Peak data rateMaximum achievable data rate20 Gbit/s
Packet LatencyRadio network contribution to packet travel time1 ms
ReliabilityMaximum packet loss00001 Pkt/s
AvailabilityNetwork uptime availability99.999%
MobilityMaximum device speed crossing multiple cells performing device handoffs with no network disruptions or packet loss500 km/h
CoverageTotal network coverage in designated zonesNear 100%
Connection densityTotal number of devices per unit area106/km2
Energy efficiencyEnergy consumption (by device or network)10% of 4G
Spectrum efficiencyThroughput per unit wireless bandwidth and per network cell4x 4G
Area traffic capacityTotal traffic across coverage area1000 (Mbit/s)/m2
SecurityDefined in specification 3GPP TS 23.501

Millimeter Wave Technology (mmWave)

5G specified radio frequencies are higher than frequencies used by 4G, which has advantages and challenges. Higher frequencies provide larger network bandwidth, lower latency and much higher connection density. Higher frequencies also have challenges with reduced transmission distances, requiring a larger number of smaller cells.

Large Millimeter Wave Bandwidth Opportunity

5G network frequency range begins at 5GHz. The 5G network frequencies are called Millimeter Wave Bandwidth (mmWave) and are 24GHz and above. 4G frequencies ranged from 700MHZ to 2.5GHz.

mmWave Advantages

mmWave Disadvantages

Full Duplex

Advances in signal processing electronics now support full-duplex network communications on the same frequency. Earlier technologies required different frequencies to transmit and receive data simultaneously.

Full duplex reduces radio frequency usage by half, doubling the number of devices that can be supported on cell towers.

5G Client Communications

The 5G protocol between 5G clients and 5G base stations must calculate or establish several details during the connection process. 4G and earlier protocol connection, security and session management remains the same and is not called out here. New requirements for 5G include,

Infrastructure Based on NFV/VNF and SDN

One of the core architectural requirements specified for 5G infrastructures is that all core network systems are based on software virtualization. Network infrastructures have traditionally included physical purpose-built appliances, which are less flexible to manage, deploy and scale.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is a network architecture based on Virtual Network Functions (VNF). Network functions include network routing, packet processing, security, and many others.

Software Defined Networks (SDNs) are a virtualization technology that abstracts physical networks to virtual network structures. Virtual networks appear and behave like physical networks but have similar advantages of other virtualization technologies.

5G Packet Core processing functional overview

5G Packet Core processing functional overview

The above diagram shows a simplified view of 5G core functions using NFV/SDN. The traffic management including services, orchestration, control and data packet management is implemented as a set of VNF chained services.

The physical network resources are presented with a virtual network overlay using SDN.

5G Carrier Network Advances

The 5G network specifications also include network technology advances in functionality, reliability and performance. These include:

Device-to-Device (D2D) Communications

Device-to-device communications is an emerging trend in “smart” systems and IoT devices that communicate and share data and knowledge, and then to potentially act on this knowledge. Fog computing, for example, is based on IoT devices communicating and sharing data.

Network Slicing

Logical network slices create tenant or service-specific networks. The network slicing creates end-to-end isolated logical networks starting from the mobile edge, continuing through the RAN mobile transport through the 5G core. Tenants are service providers delivering specific services over the network. These tenants will have specific network requirements such as reliability, latency or bandwidth.

Service-specific networks will have key performance indicator (KPI) requirements to meet a specific business need.

Network Slicing example with four logical network slices

Network Slicing example with four logical network slices

Network Slicing example with four logical network slices

In the diagram above, NFV and SDN technologies have been used to create four isolated and independent logical networks. The 5G network resources are “sliced.” Each network slice has different network performance specifications for different use case or business requirements.


Multi-tenancy uses network slicing and subscriber awareness to create isolated logical networks for independent service providers. Tenant networks can be defined with different performance characteristics and service levels.

Diagram of Multi-tenancy in Mobile Carrier Infrastructures

Diagram of Multi-tenancy in Mobile Carrier Infrastructures

Diagram of Multi-tenancy in Mobile Carrier Infrastructures

In the above diagram, Tenant A has an isolated logical network provided by network slicing. Tenant A and B share a common physical network infrastructure.

Massive MIMO

Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) is a technology that uses multiple antennas configured in a two-dimensional phased array. The MIMO antenna system is attached to a base station that controls the transmission and reception of radio signals.

Ericsson: Building 5G Networks

Massive MIMO systems are larger MIMO systems with up to several hundred antennas.

Multiple antennas working together provide several advantages:

Massive MIMO systems can handle large volumes of network throughput and support large numbers of client connections, which is a core performance requirement for 5G networks.

A10 Networks white paper: Modernize Your 4G/LTE Network NOW for 5G Success


5G-PPP View on 5G Architecture (Version 2.0) white paper: https://5g-ppp.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/5G-PPP-5G-Architecture-White-Paper-2-Summer-2017_For-Public-Consultation.pdf

Fundamentals of 5G Mobile Networks – Wiley (2015)

3GPP TS 23.501 V15.4.0 (2018-12) – https://www.3gpp.org/DynaReport/23-series.htm

March 27, 2019

About Robert Keith

Robert has 30 years of experience in IT technology development and infrastructure management. He was the founder of several infrastructure ventures including Intellivence, MaxSP, Sentrik and most recently was the CTO of Iron Networks. As CTO of Iron Networks in San Jose, CA, he worked directly with many companies in the Silicon Valley to design and architect network, security, and cloud solutions. He worked directly with Microsoft engineering in the design of their cloud architectures including storage, Hyper-V, Systems Center and Virtual Networking. He also worked directly with Hortonworks to design a Hadoop deployment and management system using CentOS and many layered software packages. READ MORE