Before 5G Transforms Society, It Will Need to Work Indoors


When next-generation 5G technology finally makes its way into cities around the world, it’s expected to revolutionize society. It is able to dramatically transform areas such as  transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing.

5G will be noticeably faster than its 4G predecessor. The technology can wirelessly connect machines and devices, accelerate manufacturer production, provide autonomous vehicles the ability to “talk” with one another, and create a more streamlined health care system. It will also stimulate the global economy. According to a recent IHS Markit study funded by Qualcomm,  developments in 5G are expected to spur $13.2 trillion USD worldwide while generating about 22 million jobs, by the year 2035.

By the end of this decade, McKinsey Global Institute predicts that 5G networks carrying high-frequency millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum will reach a quarter of the world’s population, with high-band service reaching 55% of the public in China, U.S., Japan, and South Korea.

How Some Companies are Bringing 5G Indoors

Despite its vast benefits, 5G has a major weakness: its lightning-fast mmWave spectrum has trouble penetrating glass and walls. To solve the problem, 5G cell sites will need to be erected throughout cities and regions in order to allow it to traverse a broader range of obstacles and distances. What’s more, the technology’s inability to penetrate surfaces means it currently doesn’t work well inside buildings or public transportation, which poses a major obstacle to its progress. Corning and Qualcomm are teaming up to create one possible solution.

“We provide a signal source that connects directly to the core network, so we don’t have to rely on a macro foiled signal inside the building,” Michelle Engarto, vice president of wireless product line management at Corning Optical Communications told Business Insider. “One of the biggest technical challenges for 5G in buildings, particularly with [mmWave] spectrum…is that you’ve got to get it to work indoors…the devices will work a little differently inside than they have in the past to be able to overcome these issues.”

Japan-based NTT DoCoMo is considering a different approach: the company is researching the use of materials that would allow mmWave frequency signals to more easily pierce buildings. However, creating 5G compatible materials that are also eco-friendly will be a challenge, according to Engarto. He believes that an indoor signal source is still ideal for 5G to function properly.

Can Digital Certificates Solve Security Risks?

Another roadblock for 5G is the risk it poses to privacy. For example, hackers can easily pick up non-authenticated messages between a user’s base station and cell phone towers by posing as a cell tower through means such as an IMSI catcher. It’s a problem that currently exists with 4G mobile technology, and some experts think it’s a legacy issue that 5G is likely to inherit.

Some experts believe digital certificates offer a possible solution to this problem. According to Roger Piqueras Jover, a security engineer and mobile technology researcher who recently presented his research at Shmoocon, an annual convention for hackers, these certificates work similarly to the encryption lock icons that online shoppers see in their browsers, which let them know it should be safe to input their credit card numbers.

“If you use digital certificates, you can very easily decide which certificate authorities you trust,” Jover told SCO Online. However, he noted that there will still be some obstacles. Among these challenges is the need to create a global set of standards. Furthermore, some experts argue that digital certificates won’t necessarily solve all of the security issues posed by 5G.

Understanding 5G Networks

As LTE technology evolves toward 5G, it’s vital for technical professionals and industry leaders to understand how to deliver on the 5G vision and meet consumer demand for higher communication speeds. Is your organization ready? Consider training your team with 5G Networks, a course program from IEEE and Nokia, which will be released later this year.

Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn more about the program.

Interested in learning more about 5G for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network today!

Looking to learn more about the 5G Networks course program from the course instructors?

Register for the live complimentary webinar, “Discover Techniques and the End-to-End System of 5G Networks,” presented by Olivier Haioun, 5G, 4G & SRAN Learning Manager at Nokia, and Dorothy Stanley, Head of Standards Strategy at Aruba.

Date: 4 March 2020
Time: 12-1pm ET
Register now!


Fletcher, Bevin. (24 February 2020). High-band 5G to cover 25% of globe by 2030: McKinsey. FierceWireless.

Newman, Peter. (24 February 2020). Corning and Qualcomm’s indoor 5G project could cement connectivity providers as core enterprise partners. Business Insider. 

Amon, Cristiano. (23 February 2020). 5G will transform smartphones—but it won’t stop there. Fortune.

Brumfield, Cynthia. (21 February 2020). 5G security is a mess. Could digital certificates help? SCO Online.

Newman, Lily Hay. (27 January 2020). One Small Fix Would Curb Stingray Surveillance. Wired.

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