Navigating the Roadblocks to 5G NR Adoption

Can the industry overcome the issues?

By Rajeev Gandhi, Head of Technology, Telco Network Engineering

With its expansive applications, 5G stands poised to meet the multifaceted demands of a post-COVID world, where consumers require more diverse services than ever.

Rajeev Gandhi, Head of Technology, Telco Network Engineering

The conception of novel ideas and the introduction of new technologies invariably bring forth a distinctive and intricate set of obstacles and hurdles. This holds particularly true for the evolution of 5G New Radio (NR), encompassing software and the 5G NR technology landscape. This innovative telecommunications network service represents a new era, striving to establish a universal benchmark for accelerated, highly responsive mobile communications on a global scale.


Brief history of 5G NR

Every decade since the 1980s, we have seen new technology standards for broadband cellular networks. In December 2009, 4G LTE (fourth generation long-term evolution) was the new technology, which has since become ubiquitous. By 2015, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a cooperative group of mobile telecommunications standards organizations, began developing 5G NR as the successor to 4G LTE.

According to an article from Telecom Trainer in 2018, “3GPP release 15 was a significant milestone as it marked the first set of 5G NR (New Radio) standards for non-standalone (NSA) deployment, meaning it could rely on existing 4G infrastructure.” In late 2018, the first large-scale commercial 5G NR deployment was launched.


Issues arise with 5G NR Adoption

However, as I mentioned above, every new technology has an associated laundry list of complicated issues. As 5G NR adoption continues with the latest generation of smartphones, the technology faces a plethora of roadblocks. For its standalone adoption, 5G needs to overcome some interesting challenges.

Add to this the already complex nature of the technology and the multi-dimensional issues we need to solve with 5G NR, and there are daunting problems ahead. However, as Pablo Neruda, a famous Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner, once said, “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” In other words, despite the challenges of 5G NR, the industry will figure out how to overcome the issues to adopt this next generation of cellular networking, and it will eventually become ubiquitous, too.


Major challenges with standalone 5G adoption

Extensive bill of materials

The increasing bill of materials is one of the major challenges for standalone 5G adoption. Since current cellular devices use such a wide range of bandwidth and radio frequencies (RF), the RF front-end designs are becoming increasingly complex and costly. Engineers need to balance the return on investment of providing a high-quality experience to consumers while also capping the price of these technologies so devices don’t become cost prohibitive.

Lingering effects from the pandemic

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the cost of raw materials and labor and posed unprecedented challenges to developing 5G NR software. Although this is a challenge that nearly every industry has faced in the past couple of years, it is still a noteworthy problem.

Meeting expectations of high-volume data loads

Since 5G NR is expected to offer high network capacity, increased downlink and uplink speeds, and more bandwidth, the cellular technology will compete with existing internet service providers, like cable internet providers. Many in the industry speculate that these promises of faster wireless services may lead to novel applications of the Internet of Things, which could significantly increase the potential consumer base demand for 5G NR. For 5G NR to meet expectations, the technology needs to be capable of managing the consequential high-volume load.

Limitations from millimeter waves

Another noteworthy challenge to 5G NR is the use of millimeter waves (MMWs), also known as frequency range 2 or FR2. These waves range from 24.25 GHz to 52.6 GHz and have amplitudes from 10 to one millimeter(s). Although several network operators use these waves, the major downfall of MMWs is that they have a shorter range, which leads to geographical limitations. Furthermore, MMWs cannot permeate through concrete walls efficiently.

These significant limitations confine MMWs to a narrow geographical cell service coverage area. To combat this problem, I expect that MMW cells will be used in densely populated urban settings, or network operators will deploy several small cells to provide the necessary coverage area.

Negative environmental impacts

An argument against 5G NR technology of a ‘green’ origin came up around 2019. Many people voiced a fear that 5G NR and its corresponding RF waves could harm bees, a vital player in our ecosystem. This article from ScienceDirect said, “RF-EMF [electromagnetic field] exposure significantly reduced homing success of honeybees. These effects on homing behavior were only evident after long-term, not short-term, irradiation. Honeybee brood development and longevity were not affected by RF-EMF.”

Despite evidence of some, but not entirely, negative impacts of cellular technologies on bees, when issues like climate change, sustainability, and ecological imbalance come into play as new technologies emerge, industry innovators who are responsible for the development of such technologies need to make necessary contributions to minimize any harm to the environment.

With that said, 5G smartphone developers have tried to reduce power usage to make devices greener. By using envelope circuit mechanisms, developers can minimize wasted power (in the form of device heating) to preserve the battery life. Since efficient power usage is an important selling point for the new line of smartphones, and consumers certainly want the best battery life possible, 5G technology developers cannot afford to cut corners here. Moreover, stable power usage helps mobile communication stay practical, so focusing on the green aspects of long battery life is highly warranted.


Future of 5G: Can the industry overcome these issues?

The advent of 5G NR signifies a groundbreaking era in information and communication technology. With its expansive applications, 5G stands poised to meet the multifaceted demands of a post-COVID world, where consumers require more diverse services than ever. Every day, innovations shape the landscape of 5G, brimming with endless possibilities. As the industry navigates the challenges posed by 5G NR, only time will unveil whether the right measures are taken to surmount them.

At UST, our team of telecommunications consultants comprehensively grasp these challenges. We're ready to discuss your 5G initiative, strategies for accelerating 5G adoption and help align 5G NR technologies with your strategic objectives. Connect with us today at to explore further.