Breaking Down 5G

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Claire Pan
The Inspired Team
Senior Associate
December 15, 2023
Breaking Down 5G

In this episode of Inspired in 15, Rajeev and I talk about the future of 5G, a technology that will impact millions of consumers but most people understand very little about. Rajeev is the CEO of Celona. Celona’s fully integrated 5G LAN platform, the first of its kind, is used across companies like Verizon, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Purdue Research Foundation. A self-declared “wireless networking geek,” Rajeev has over a decade of experience in the space - first at Aruba, then at Federated Wireless, and finally now as the founder of Celona. We dive into some of his insights below.

In the simplest terms, what is 5G?

“Most of us have gotten used to the concept of mobile networks, which are really the wireless networks that we use to connect our smartphones and other mobile devices all over the country, and maybe even the world, to do primarily two things: make voice calls, and increasingly in the last 10 to 16 years, be the primary source of data over which we run all our apps. Whether they are enterprise apps, email, CRM, or personal apps, everything runs on these networks today.”

In short, mobile networks use radio frequencies, also known as spectrum, to carry information through the air and 5G is the fifth generation of this technology. A new version has been released approximately every 10 years since 1G emerged in 1979 when Japan commercialized the first automated cellular network.

Image from Tech Square ATL

How is 5G different from 4G and its other predecessors?

When 5G was being designed a decade ago, we were promised a technology that would bring us everything from self-driving cars to the fourth industrial revolution. The telecom industry prioritized three core tenets:

  1. Low Latency: They predicted that the next generation of applications will need to process extremely high volumes of data extremely quickly. 5G’s latency rate is 1 millisecond. For comparison, 4G’s is 200 milliseconds and a human’s average reaction speed to visual stimuli is 250 milliseconds, so with 5G, your application could react 250x faster than you.
  2. Multi-Application: They also predicted that a single network must be able to serve multiple applications and customers. 5G uses a higher radio frequency than 4G and its millimeter-wave spectrum is capable of supporting more devices in a single area.
  3. New Spectrum Options: 5G operates in three spectrum bands - low, mid, and high. Each band has different capabilities: the low band has greater coverage but lower speed, mid band offers a balance, and high band offers higher speed but less coverage. Designing a technology where users can leverage the full spectrum allows businesses to optimize their traffic.

The consumer use case is obvious, but what does it mean for an enterprise to use 5G?

“I think the simplest way to think about what Celona does is to think about the WiFi network we are all used to in our offices and homes. And just imagine that if you had a huge manufacturing plant and you wanted similarly easy connectivity, but with the high reliability, high performance, and the low latency of 5G, how could that happen? That’s what Celona has made happen. Today, businesses can deploy their own 5G networks in their own facilities just like they have done with WiFi over the last two decades.”

  • Connected Workers: Manufacturing facilities have various machines and equipment that can interfere with Wi-Fi signals. For example, heavy machinery, high-voltage equipment, and metal surfaces can all block or weaken Wi-Fi signals, resulting in unreliable or non-existent connectivity that forces workers to work offline.
  • Robotics Revolution: As of 2021, there were at least 3.5 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world, and this number has only grown exponentially. Robots can be very sensitive and require constant real-time data transmission so there can’t be any drops or latency in the wireless connection.
  • Connected Factories: A connected factory uses digital technology, sensors, and cloud-based storage to allow for seamless sharing of information across the plant. Using sensors and wireless mediums, connected factories can track products from start to finish and are far more efficient. For example, sensors monitoring oil levels and temperature can automatically create a maintenance request if conditions veer too far from the acceptable level instead of waiting for a worker to notice and take action.

If 5G has been in the works for a decade, why are we only talking about it now?

“Wireless networks generally need to be built ahead of the need, almost like a processor. You build a processor when you don’t yet know what the applications are going to be. This is a little of the futuristic thinking that occurred in that 2013 to 2016 time frame when they anticipated what type of things could come in and have been building towards. Candidly, what we are experiencing today is probably just a step along the journey.”

  1. Consumer Adoption Curve: We are still early in the consumer adoption curve of several emerging technologies like VR/AR and generative AI. There are many non-obvious use cases of 5G-enabled technology such as real-time multi-camera views of major sporting events and concerts.
  2. Industry 4.0: Enterprises are just scratching the surface of their digital transformations and further adoption of robotics automation will highlight the demand for low latency technology. As Rajeev points out, in the last 12 months, we also have seen various applications outside of Apple support 5G technology, such as Honeywell and Zebras, which was needed for enterprises to really adopt 5G at scale.
  3. Trough of disillusionment: Because the promise of 5G was so overhyped or as Rajeev says “we have essentially painted the vision for 5G as it will be in 2024 in 2018”, a lot of the industry has dismissed the potential impact of 5G. However, key technological advances in the last few months and further cost reductions over the next couple of years might finally bring 5G to an inflection point.

What’s next for 5G?

“One of the most transformative things that is happening right now are the three legs of the triangle: AI, 5G, and the edge. You need those three working in conjunction and that's what's gonna create the biggest transformation of the physical world in the next five years.”

  • The Promise of 6G: While we already see people talking about 6G, we should realize that “realistically, it’s a 2030 technology.” It is too early to approximate 6G data rates, but Dr. Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam from the University of Sydney has suggested that a theoretical peak data rate of 1 terabyte per second for wireless data may be possible. LG unveiled a similar type of technology based on adaptive beamforming in 2021.
  • Mass Consumer Adoption: 5G is forecasted to cover more than 40% of the global population and overtake 4G as the most popular way to access mobile internet in 2024. To date, most consumers haven’t been motivated enough by the promise of faster speeds to upgrade their phones but experts predict that the rise of viral VR/AR apps will drive mass adoption.
  • Opportunities for Enterprise Monetization: As 5G pushes deeper into manufacturing, we also expect to see more widespread adoption in other major industries like healthcare (75% of large healthcare enterprises plan to deploy private 5G networks by 2024) and retail, which can leverage 5G to create a seamless online and offline experience.

How can I get smarter about 5G and who should I be watching?

5G is a constantly evolving topic. To get smarter on the landscape, the Celona team recommends following:

Two emerging players that Celona team is excited about and we should all be watching closely are:

  • EdgeQ, a Series B company headquartered in California, building “on-chip 5G systems that focuses on converged connectivity and software-programmable and customizable AI”
  • Verana Networks, a Series B company headquartered in Massachusetts, developing innovative 5G radio-access networks (RAN) solutions and building the infrastructure needed for 5G to scale

What if I'm building something in this space?

At Inspired, we're excited about backing early-stage founders with transformative ideas, brilliant teams, and relentless determination. If you're building the next big thing in 5G, please reach out to me at