What do eMBB, mMTC and uRLLC mean in 5G?

eMBB, mMTC and uRLLC are three key terminologies that we hear about in the context of the services that 5G networks enable. This is not something mobile operators promote to their consumer customers, but definitely something they may promote to their business customers as 5G networks mature. If you are familiar with these terminologies, you may have encountered the triangle below. This post aims to dive into the definitions of these terminologies and discuss the significance of this triangle, which has eMBB, URLLC and mMTC at each of its vertices.

What problem eMBB, uRLLC and mMTC solve?

5G NR mobile networks are the evolution of 4G LTE, LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro networks. However, they are designed to support new enterprise-level use cases whilst still supporting the more common use cases that 4G, 3G and 2G networks already support today. The pre-5G networks such as 2G GSM, 3G UMTS and 4G LTE employ more of a “one size fits all” approach where the same network supports all the different types of use cases. The 2G, 3G, and 4G networks offer mobile data, voice calls, and text messaging services, and for that, they utilise network capabilities depending on what the customer is trying to do. Depending on the customer need, e.g. high-speed data requirements, the network may decide to use flexible bandwidth such as carrier aggregation (in 4G) to accommodate high data rates. All that is will still work in 5G for the use cases that we know today, but for futuristic use cases with billions of connected devices, one size will definitely not fit all. And that is where eMBB, uRLLC and mMTC come in. These three terminologies can be seen as use case categories or three distinct groups that together cover the overall technical needs for the existing and future use cases. The communication needs for these three categories can be summarised as follows:

  1. high-data rates e.g. watching an HD video
  2. low-data rates e.g. sending a text message on WhatsApp
  3. highly reliable connection, no matter what data rates are available
  4. very low latencies e.g. self-driving cars where you definitely don’t want any delays
  5. ver little power consumption so that the battery can last for years instead of days
  6. works with standard hardware and software to cost-effectively support billions of devices

Enhanced Mobile Broadband – eMBB

Out of the three categories, this is the most obvious one that we can easily relate to even today. We all know how important it is for us to have high-speed broadband services, and many of us have already explored the capabilities of 4G LTE networks as home broadband. However, 5G takes broadband speeds to a whole new level, and we can expect peak speeds of over 10 Gbps with 5G. That is the maximum speed the network can deliver in ideal conditions but in real-life with a vast number of users on the network and the analogue nature of the radio signal, we get a fraction of this speed on average. Here is a post that will give you an idea of what kind of average speeds you can expect from 5G NR in the UK today. The requirement for eMBB is primarily high data rates which is something that even the nonstandalone variant of 5G (NSA) can deliver. More about standalone and non standalone 5G networks in this post.

Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication

uRLLC or ultra-reliable low latency communication is where an ultra-reliable connection is required that works on low latencies. Here the data rates are not important. 5G networks, as we know, can operate at different frequencies and higher frequencies offer better performance both from a data rate and latency viewpoints. So if we take the self-driving cars as an example use case, the link between the vehicles requires real-time communication, which means that the latencies must be very low. 5G NR can enable latencies of as low as 1 millisecond to support use cases like self-driving cars, general traffic safety, manufacturing automation etc.

Massive Machine-Type Communication

Massive Machine Type Communication is the use case category that requires the network to support the mass deployment of billions of low-cost, low-powered devices. For the true digitisation of industries in the future, of course, we don’t want to be spending our precious time charging batteries for billions of devices. Hence, this is a key requirement for 5G to support use cases where sensors, actuators, and machine monitoring systems operate at low data rates.

So, to summarise: Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (uRLLC) are three use case categories or classes for 5G NR networks. Together they represent the various types of communications required to enable use cases that demand high-speed data, mass deployment of connected devices, and low latency from the network.

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