5G: Do I really Need It Yet?

There’s a lot of hype around 5G, right now; some of our customers are thinking they need to be involved for future-proofing just in case current technology becomes obsolete. 4G will most likely last at least another decade. There are other online blog posts that relate to when 4G might become obsolete such as this one. Note that CAT.M1 (LTE-M) and NB IoT radio technologies will not undergo this same kind of “sunset” where they are rendered obsolete but they will evolve and connect to an upgraded MNO network architecture. Normally device product cycles do no look so far forward in time, although some government projects can take many years in development phase!

To be clear, there are benefits, the main one being the high data rates (a few hundred Mbps, between 5-10x faster than LTE) and being on-board with the latest radio access technology. Maybe later there may be “5G” modules that are smaller/cheaper that will support the much slower speeds that are currently 4G CAT1,4 etc.

Data rates: however most current applications do not need such high data rates, and an LTE CAT12 or CAT18 module can add quite a bit of extra bandwidth if required at less cost.
Quectel has EM06-E (M.2) and EP06-E (miniPCIe) that are Telstra certified.   Even though originally specified as CAT6, they actually achieve CAT13 in DL direction so are good for downlink streaming (e.g. video) applications.
Going higher, we also have EM12-G (M.2 CAT12 both UL and DL), and EG18-EA (LGA CAT18).  All the modules mentioned here are Telstra certified.

Coverage: Of course 5G will have the best speeds and be future-proof, but in the short term the coverage may take some time to be the default technology for cellular connections.   See the article below:
Australia, April 2022, Mobile Network Experience Report | Opensignal

“Telstra 5G users spent 17.5% of their time with an active 5G connection while those on second placed Vodafone did so for 15.6% of their time.”

So from January to March 2022, a 5G handset in Australia could get 5G service for about 18% of the time on average..  to give an idea of service provision at the moment. 5G cell sizes are smaller than LTE so network operators will need to re-factor their cell site locations, add extra cells for extra high speed services such as mmWave that has much smaller line-of-sight only coverage. It will be some years before 5G becomes the default cellular technology.

To summarise, its really up to the end customer and their requirements for short and long-term. 5G modules comes in M.2 and LGA package so one option is to use M.2 in the device, upgrade for LTE-A higher category as required for now and be ready for 5G. Note: miniPCIe is NOT used for 5G by any manufacturer as it is As said, LPWA (CAT.M1 and NBIoT will be around for a long time and eventually connect into the 5G core network. Likewise LTE will be around for many years also.