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Terrestrial and extraterrestrial 5G: How are data centers preparing for unlimited connectivity

The term “logging off” may soon cease to exist thanks to the much-anticipated arrival of 5G. The newest mobile network is set to roll out next year, with promises of flexible, reliable and secure wireless network access from just about anywhere.

And we mean anywhere. Latest advancements have taken a sci fi route to ensure that fifth generation connectivity can reach every corner of the planet. SpaceX recently received FCC approval to launch 7,500 more satellites into space. According to reports, this Starlink Broadband will create a potential blanket connection across the electromagnetic spectrum, offering broadband speeds similar to fiber optic networks. Samsung and Facebook have also got onboard this new race for space-based internet.

5G, whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial, will not only deliver widespread internet coverage, but with more people connected, it will support up to 1,000 times higher data volumes than previous networks. Therefore, as we wait patiently for our promised unlimited connectivity, lightning-fast downloads and internet browsing speeds, data centers are busy preparing on how best to accommodate for this 5G handover. Here’s what they should keep in mind.

Ubiquitous data

With an estimated 20.8 billion devices forecast to be connected to the internet, 5G will not just be centered around speed, but capacity as well. The amount of data flooding data centers will be practically unlimited. This data will need to be staged and streamed at much higher speeds, volumes, and lower latencies.

Due to 5G’s fast speeds and low latency, all eyes are on how the network will enrich the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. According to a Gartner survey, 57% of businesses that responded that with 5G their primary aim will be to enhance communication between IoT devices. With potentially billions of IoT connected devices, the amount of data moved between these devices and the cloud will be astounding.

5G will also allow wireless operators to target homes as their primary means of internet connectivity, acting as an instant nationwide competitor to traditional wireline ISPs. With the constraint of proximity easing, the amount of data that will go into the internet will be practically unlimited.

Data centers and telecom providers will therefore require the right high-performance hardware and technology to handle the routing and switching that are necessary to match the flow of data. One solution is installing software defined power (SDP) based on both hardware and software that can skillfully allocate power throughout the data center.

Infrastructure adaptations

The good news is that data centers are pretty much ready for this onhaul of 5G. Since the introduction of 4G they have been able to effectively do their job of ingesting and processing data. What will need to change, however, is the infrastructure to cater to 5Gs frequencies.

Rather than large cell towers scattered across the country, 5G will demand the deployment of small cell technology. 5G uses shorter wavelengths which means phone antennas need to be much smaller than existing antennas. Moreover, these super-high frequencies (30 GHz to 300 GHz) will only work if devices are in close proximity to antennas. Therefore it is likely we will see multiple input and output antennas (MIMOs) and many more small cells installed around public infrastructure.

Small cells have a clear advantage over traditional cell sites as they can be located in areas which do not have space for large cell towers. What’s more, they are cheaper to deploy. Data centers will, however, need to be close enough to these cells to meet service-level agreements. In terms of Space X’s vision for 5G network, satellites will be able to serve areas which can not be reached by a cell site due to terrain (such as mountains, oceans, lakes etc.) and power. But even then, data accumulated will need to be backhauled to a data center somewhere. What we will probably see is the break up of larger data centers into smaller, more local data centers close to these cells.

Compression algorithms

Continuous improvements on efficiencies will need to be made throughout the course of the unfurling of 5G. With internet connectivity there will always be a challenge of meeting the balance between increasing your throughput and decreasing your footprint.

According to a recent report in Nature, data centers use roughly 1 percent of global electricity use (200 terawatts of energy a year). One route data centers are embarking on to be more energy-efficient is by relocating to cool climates, to reduce server cooling costs, and near renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric dams.

5G will see more consumers using more data, for example, streaming more videos, downloading music etc. Therefore, networks and data centers will have to keep pace with this increase, but at the same time concentrate on reducing their footprint (such as keeping power bills and carbon emissions as low as possible).

Data centers will be tasked with the challenge of compressing data to handle the increase in video streams, for example. To do this, new technologies and compression algorithms will certainly have to be identified and utilized.

Like with any upgrade, the architecture, foundations and software supporting it will need to be modified slightly. 5G will almost certainly throw Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) into mainstream use, resulting in a massive need for data processing. Data centers will therefore need to concentrate all efforts on preparing for the overwhelming amount of data they will be tasked with handling. Further impacts on data centers will become apparent next year when telecommunications companies, such as Samsung and Verizon, start offering their trail 5G service. So stay tuned!

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