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Glossary of 5G-related terms

5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks, has introduced significant improvements in speed, capacity, latency and connectivity over previous generations (1G, 2G, 3G and 4G) (Rossi, 2023). According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 5G networks can support 1,000 times more mobile data per area, 100 times more connected devices, 100 times higher user data rates, ten times longer battery life for low-power massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and five times lower end-to-end latency (ITU, 2022; McKinsey, 2022a). Beyond increasing the speed of human-to-human and data communications, 5G holds great industrial potential due to its ability to connect numerous devices and enable Internet of Things (IoT) applications, including automated driving, smart agriculture, telemedicine and fully automated industrial systems (Rossi, 2023). By 2020, 5G was being rolled out globally, with widespread commercial launches and rapid subscriber growth (Mendonça et al., 2022).
6G builds on the advances of 5G and is expected to be commercially available by 2030. It is anticipated that this next-generation technology will deliver significant improvements over 5G in terms of speed, capacity and latency. 6G’s key differentiator is its enhanced performance, which could potentially enable seamless integration between the digital and physical realms (5G PPP, 2022; Nokia, 2023; Rossi, 2023).
Artificial intelligence (AI):
AI typically refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks traditionally associated with human cognition, such as reasoning, learning and problem-solving (McKinsey, 2023a). This often involves training AI systems by allowing them to analyse large data-sets, from which they learn patterns and behaviours in order to perform specific tasks effectively. AI has been described as essential for managing 5G networks and meeting their high-performance requirements, enabling operations and resource utilization that would be beyond human capabilities (Ericsson, 2019, 2022a).
Digital twin:
A digital twin involves generating digital replicas of objects, people, processes or complex environments – for instance, a 5G network (McKinsey, 2023b). Developing a virtual solution capable of accurately replicating the 5G ecosystem could offer a promising approach when it comes to addressing 5G deployment challenges, pointing to the interconnection between these two topics (Nguyen et al., 2021).
Edge computing:
Edge computing, also known as mobile edge computing (MEC) or multi-access edge computing, is a decentralized architecture that involves placing processing/storage resources for applications close to the point of data generation or consumption. Given processing data at this proximity is needed to meet 5G’s expected breakthrough latency requirements, edge computing and 5G have a symbiotic relationship (3GPP, 2022; Deloitte, 2024; Ericsson, 2023; IBM, 2024).
Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB):
eMBB is one of the three main use case classes for 5G (the others being mMTC and uRLLC). eMBB focuses on delivering faster data speeds, increased network capacity and improved mobility in order to support a wide range of applications and services, including high-definition video streaming, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) (Dangi et al., 2021; Kumar et al., 2024).
Internet of Things (IoT):
The IoT is a network of interconnected devices and objects that can exchange data over the internet. 5G enables the proliferation of IoT devices and applications by providing enhanced connectivity between a massive number of devices (Knieps and Bauer, 2022; McKinsey, 2022b).
Latency is the time it takes for data to travel from source to destination. Latency in 5G networks has been significantly reduced compared to previous generations, enabling real-time communication and immersive experiences (Ericsson, 2022b).
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications:
M2M communications involve the exchange of data between two or more machines/devices without human intervention. Such devices include sensors, industrial equipment and other connected devices. M2M communications is expected to play an important role when it comes to providing ubiquitous IoT services for 5G systems. M2M communications enable automation, remote monitoring and control of various processes in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and transportation (Chen et al., 2017; Dangi et al., 2021).
Massive machine-type communications (mMTC):
mMTC is one of the three main use case classes for 5G (the other two being eMBB and uRLLC). mMTC is designed to facilitate M2M communications and support massive IoT infrastructures, enabling connectivity for a large number of devices. This includes the ability to support at least 1 million IoT connections per square kilometre, with long battery life and extensive wide-area coverage (Kumar et al., 2024).
The term ‘metaverse’, coined by Neal Stephenson in a 1992 novel, has recently gained significant attention, particularly in light of Facebook rebranding itself as Meta and unveiling plans for a virtual reality-powered metaverse (Ericsson, 2022c). Essentially, the metaverse can be understood as an intricately sophisticated form of internet application that seamlessly merges virtual and physical realities into a unified space. In the metaverse, 5G is considered necessary to facilitate low latency, edge-cloud capabilities, as well as standardized interfaces, all of which are essential to empower the metaverse (Njoku et al., 2022).
Millimetre wave (mmWave):
mmWave derives its name from frequencies with wavelengths as short as one millimetre. It is defined as the extremely high frequency (EHF) band and represents the highest frequencies used in 5G networks. A key benefit of 5G mmWave technology is its ability to provide a significant amount of bandwidth, enabling multi-gigabit peak rates. On the negative side, it only has a limited coverage area. This limitation occurs because high-frequency signals have difficulty penetrating obstacles such as walls or windows (Hollington, 2022).
Network slicing:
Network slicing involves partitioning a single physical network infrastructure into multiple virtual networks, or ‘slices’, each customized to meet specific application requirements (Koenig and Veidt, 2023; Yoo and Lambert, 2019). Thus, for example, one slice could be dedicated to the network operator’s regular subscribers, with another slice devoted to a specific service, such as tracking of containers via M2M communications (3GPP, 2022).
Pioneer bands:
Three pioneer bands have been identified and auctioned to deliver 5G services in Europe: the 700 MHz band (which offers greater coverage but lower speeds), the 3.5 GHz band (medium coverage, medium speeds) and the 26 GHz band (higher speeds but lower coverage) (Carciofi et al., 2019).
Private versus public networks:
Public 5G networks are accessible to the general public in areas covered by a mobile network operator, which is responsible for their service and management (Samsung, 2021). Private 5G networks operate in a similar way, but are dedicated to a single company or organization, and often confined to a specific location, such as a campus or industrial facility. Private 5G networks are therefore self-contained, with their own dedicated frequency bands, giving owners full control over security, customization and access. However, setting up such networks often requires significant investment (Koenig and Veidt, 2023; Kuś and Massaro, 2022; Yoo and Lambert, 2019). 
Quality of service (QoS):
QoS is a set of parameters that defines the level of service quality experienced by users or applications on a network. QoS mechanisms in 5G networks ensure that different types of traffic (e.g. voice, video, data) receive appropriate prioritization and resource-allocation based on their respective requirements (Ben Slimen et al., 2021).
Spectrum refers to the specific radio frequencies used for transmitting data from user equipment to cellular base stations, which then relay the data to its final destination. Essentially, the spectrum determines both the speed and coverage of 5G networks (Nokia, 2024).
Ultra-reliable and low latency communications (uRLLC):
uRLLC is one of the three main use case classes for 5G (the other two being mMTC and eMBB). Important for mission-critical applications that require low latency and high reliability, uRLLC ensures timely and reliable communication for vital operations (Kumar et al., 2024). It thus has enabling potential for connected industry 4.0 and V2X (vehicle-to-everything), remote surgery, smart grids, etc. (Dangi et al., 2021; Larrabeiti et al., 2023).
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs):
UAVs are commonly known as drones, being aircraft that operate without a human pilot (Mohsan et al., 2023).
Unmanned aerial system (UAS):
UAS refers to a broader system that includes not only UAVs, but associated ground control stations, communications links and support equipment. The term is often used interchangeably with UAV, but encompasses the entire system required to operate unmanned aircraft safely and effectively (Mohsan et al., 2023).
Verticals are understood as particular industries or sectors (‘markets’) where 5G innovation may occur. This includes: automotive, rail and maritime communications; transport and logistics; discrete automation; electricity distribution; public safety; health and wellness; smart cities; and media and entertainment (3GPP, 2022). The terms ‘vertical’ and ‘sector’ are used interchangeably throughout this report.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR):
VR and AR are immersive technologies that overlay digital content onto the physical world (AR) or create entirely virtual environments (VR). 5G networks enable seamless, high-quality VR/AR experiences by delivering high-speed data and low latency connectivity (Dangi et al., 2021).