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5G networking promises faster connection speeds, lower latency and more capacity for multiple devices than 4G. Businesses continue to speed up the deployment and use of 5G across all areas of their organizations, including data centers.
Data centers must prepare to support the added use of 5G. 5G networking uses more decentralized components and services than 4G, which affects data centers’ current designs and architectures. It has the potential to kickstart an increased use of local or mini data centers located closer to the edge computing devices found in 5G networks.
The rollout of 5G networks has increased demand for fast connections and download speeds. Enterprise uses are expected to dominate the 5G landscape in the next few years and reach the break-even point for 5G investments by 2030.
5G network vs. 4G
When it was released, 4G networking was a significant advance on 3G technology. It enabled greater bandwidth capabilities, higher cell density and improved VoIP capabilities. In the case of 4G LTE, it supported various traffic types on the same networks. This era of networking saw an explosion in innovation through IoT growth, increased numbers of smartphones globally and increased remote work.
To support 4G networks, many data center operators simply added more hardware to their facilities such as routers and switches. This led to increased carbon footprints, electricity consumption and cooling costs. As a result, data centers started adding more VMs and containers to their architectures to reduce the number of physical machines and optimize systems across infrastructures.
5G networks use a different network approach. Data centers cannot simply add more hardware or VMs to accommodate 5G. 5G represents a decentralized networking platform that can exist entirely outside a traditional data center. It uses small and macro cells the size of shoeboxes located closer to the devices it connects to. Antennas and clustered cells transmit across all frequency bands — low bands below 1 GHz, mid bands from 1-6 GHz and high bands known as millimeter waves. This enables 5G networks to enjoy bandwidth speeds up to 20 Gbps peak data rates and more than 100 Mbps on average.
A 5G network’s core network infrastructure handles all the data and internet connections between devices, such as beamforming, authentication and access controls and session management.
Data center operators can prepare for 5G in multiple ways. They can purchase real estate closer to anticipated connection hotspots or learn how to optimize the various touchpoints these networks need — including microcells, core networks and radio access networks. Those prepared to move from 4G to 5G networking could have an advantage in the market and better support new customers sooner.
4G in the data center
4G networking affects the data center mostly in the last mile of access, as external devices connect to hardware or software. Such devices include smartphones or computers, routers and switches, gateways and data stores. Most devices connect machine-to-machine. Although some, such as 4G-enabled routers, include dual packet data network connections and enable multiple cellular connections, most 4G devices have limits as to how many other devices can connect at once.
The 4G-based data center has a linear architecture when it comes to how it connects devices and services. This can make it hard to scale. It requires significant investment to set up, so many enterprises use colocated data center options. Compared to owning a 4G infrastructure, colocation is more cost effective to manage and use as networks grow.
The shift to 5G makes this model unsustainable from a technology, resourcing and cost perspective. There are simply too many last-mile devices in enterprise IoT fleets and too many demands for always-on connections.
5G in the data center
5G networking has a more decentralized approach that moves some of the networking infrastructure outside the data center. Small cells and antennas are installed around public infrastructure or on client sites to offer low latency and meet SLAs for their customers. Businesses can deploy micro data centers close to a 5G micro cell to enable unlimited data processing with faster bandwidth and more reliable connections to larger data centers. The traditional data center can be rearchitected to supplement the new micro data centers and other 5G networking cells and handle different workloads than it does now.
5G networks generate and transmit higher data volumes than 4G, and micro cells or mini data centers can’t handle it all, especially at longer distances. Smaller data collection and processing jobs can happen at the edge and then move to a larger data center for aggregation or final storage.
The physical footprint of the mini 5G data center looks like a traditional data center. It includes small racks of VMs and environmental controls to manage temperatures and keep contaminants out. What changes is physical access to this equipment. These spaces might not have a nearby support staff or easy accessibility, because they might be in areas that require third-party permission to enter.
5G architecture must have extra physical resilience to vibration, dust, temperature and heavy handling because it’s portable and can be installed virtually anywhere. Self-healing 5G devices and systems without a single point of failure can help, too, so nonspecialists can maintain them. The 5G network must be durable enough to run through multiple component failures until it can be fixed, no matter who is dispatched to fix it.