Telecom companies, especially in India, have been banking on something called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to take the country into the 5G world. The funny thing is that DSS isn’t really an “essential” technology in the move to 5G, in the sense that telcos can move to 5G even without it. However, the impact of DSS is such that almost no telco in the world will choose to ignore it. But you’re probably wondering why we’re telling you all this. After all, we only care whether we get 5G networks, not how telcos are going to get it right? Well, DSS plays a role in that too. And to understand that, we need to get a quick low-down on what DSS actually does.
Stop saying DSS and tell me how it works!
Sure. Simply put, DSS is a way to superimpose 5G carrier waves on top of existing 4G networks. Did we just confuse you more? We probably did.
Look at it this way, 5G networks will operate on a particular radio frequency, and 4G operates on a separate radio frequency. That means your phone, or any other product that connects to these networks, will need antennae that can interact with these frequencies. By superimposing 5G waves on top of 4G, DSS basically nullifies that requirement. One antenna can now surf both 4G and 5G networks.
We’re not going into the telco side of DSS, but for the consumer, it essentially means better bandwidth and connectivity. Imagine the mobile Internet network at your favourite coffee shop. Everyone here will have a 4G phone right now, meaning everyone’s jostling for space in a finite amount of bandwidth.
For the uninitiated, bandwidth for the Internet is just like a road with a fixed number of lanes. If one lane can hold one car at a time it means three cars can travel at the same time, with others following them. Now replace the cars with mobile phones, and the three lanes into 100Mbps bandwidth, which together make a full 300Mbps network. Got it?
Now, when we move to 5G networks, people will still have both 5G and 4G phones. This means that at a given time, a 5G network will have to interact with both LTE and 5G users, which in turn puts more pressure on the bandwidth. This is where the “dynamic” part of DSS comes in. The technology doesn’t just superimpose 5G carrier waves onto LTE waves, it can also separates the users automatically. That means if you’re the only person at that coffee shop with a 5G phone, you will be the only one who gets to use the full bandwidth, as long as it is feasible.
My 4G doesn’t work half the time…how will DSS help this?
And that’s the question you should be asking for sure. India’s population is big, with about 400 million Internet users. That’s more than the total population of the United States (US), and we have over a billion users who are yet to come online. Remember that bandwidth definition we gave above? Imagine a five lane road with a car each on all five lanes, and about a million more rows to follow. Your 4G network feels slow sometimes because there are just too many people. In 5G, there will be phones, IoT devices, traffic signals, lights and much more vying for space on the network.
This is the first impact of 5G, that it enhances the overall bandwidth available to telcos. It also enhances something called latency, which is how long a car takes to travel from the start to the end of the road. This is actually what we commonly call Internet speed, and is usually represented in milliseconds on a standard Ookla speed test.
DSS is basically producing a sort of multi-level parking like system for Internet traffic. 5G and 4G customers have their own lanes, with their own bandwidths, and in case one falls short the network can dynamically shift phones from 4G networks to 5G (because 5G is backward compatible) and vice versa.
It doesn’t end there. DSS is also a way for telcos to hasten their move to 5G. You see, Indian telcos began in the 2G era, moved to 3G and are on LTE now. That means they have a lot of legacy infrastructure that they need to upgrade to 5G. Since they have already phased out a big part of their 3G and 2G infra, it means they can simply use DSS to bring 5G to areas that currently have a compatible 4G network. Basically, if all other considerations remain constant, if one telco starts rolling out 5G networks then chances are that the others will catch up too.
So I should ask my telco if they support DSS?
Not really. You still only need to know whether your phone supports 5G or not, and whether your telco provides 5G connections. DSS remains backend infra technology that indirectly benefits you. What you do know now though that if a smartphone maker tries to tell you in future that their phone works on both 4G and 5G bands, they haven’t really accomplished anything that shouldn’t have happened already. You could check if a phone supports DSS though.
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