Understanding important 5G concepts: What are eMBB, URLLC and mMTC?
Important 5G terminology doesn’t need to be difficult to understand. Here, we break down what’s meant by URLLC, eMBB and mMTC—and why they matter.
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With 5G wireless technology, we often talk about the what—amazing outcomes such as high speed and low latency that allow for multiplayer gaming on the go with low lag1, HD video chatting2, the ability to enable new Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities and more. But we rarely talk about what’s behind the focus on those outcomes.
To understand this, you need a little background on the development of 5G and of three important concepts related to the fifth generation of mobile technology:
URLLC: Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications
eMBB: Enhanced Mobile Broadband
mMTC: Massive Machine-Type Communications
These three attributes—also called service categories—are the umbrella ideas that continue to define what 5G is and what it does. So how did that come to be? Let’s dive in!
Who defines what 5G actually should do?
Have you ever thought about how easy it is to use your mobile phone today, even when traveling internationally? That’s thanks to a United Nations working group (no kidding) known as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that sets the guidelines and requirements for global information and communications technology.
For ongoing development of 5G, the ITU has approved the standards and specifications developed by another international working group, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It’s a complicated relationship, but it can help to think of it this way: ITU sets guidelines, 3GPP creates the technical standards and the two work together to move those standards forward.
And that’s where eMBB, URLLC and mMTC got their start—these are three main innovations of 5G as first classified by the ITU. They’re essentially umbrella concepts that, working together, show a more complete view of what 5G can do.
Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB): Faster on the go
eMBB is a concept that focuses on the speed, capacity and mobility to allow for new mobile uses such as high-definition video streaming and immersive augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) on the go.
When we talk about 5G, high speed is expected. But capacity and mobility may or may not always be needed. For example, there might be a lot of people connected to a 5G network at a specific venue. In that situation, capacity needs would be especially high in order to maintain that high-speed experience, but mobility needs would be low. However, traveling in a moving vehicle—especially a train or airplane—would require high mobility to maintain that high-speed experience.
The next time you’re streaming a high-def movie on your device while on the go? Well, 5G eMBB makes that possible.
Ultra-Reliable and Low-Latency Communications (URLLC): Staying connected with low lag
It can help to think of this concept as a way to support mission-critical communications for services like autonomous cars and remote surgery. These are situations where data transfer needs to have as little lag as possible and connections need to be as reliable as possible.
Guidelines for 5G URLLC address these needs with reliability of up to 99.999% and latency in low single-digit milliseconds. As described by 3GPP, that’s an improvement of up to 75% over the latency of 4G LTE.
That performance enables URLLC use cases that were not possible with previous generations of wireless technology. Two areas in particular can benefit from the near-real-time communication enabled by 5G URLLC:
IoT technology used in manufacturing. Faster data transfer in automated settings or with industrial robotics can lead to improved production times and increased safety in automated factories and warehouses.
Transportation and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) systems. Precise and reliable communication between vehicles (cars, trains, planes) and the world around them can increase safety and efficiency in transportation systems. It can also lead to more efficient traffic flow in smart transportation systems.
Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC): Connecting all the things
It can help to think of 5G mMTC as connecting a massive number of things in the Internet of Things. The mMTC concept focuses on connecting large numbers of devices in a given area—up to 1 million devices per square kilometer—that have low data rate requirements and low energy consumption.
What can that mean? By enabling a massive number of connected sensors, potential mMTC use cases include applications like smart agriculture, where sensors could help to monitor and react to small changes in growing conditions at locations over a wide area to enable targeted, near-real-time response to optimize growth rates. And it could enable similar functions—near-real-time data collection and response—in urban locations to help manage traffic or a smarter electric grid; in factories to help manage production or quality assurance or shipping; in shipping fleets to monitor routes, efficiency and maintenance needs; and more.
eMBB, URLLC and mMTC: Why they matter
Understanding the three main categories of 5G can help you see where the technology is and where it’s going. Consider this: IoT-related use cases and device-to-device connectivity are the primary drivers for two of the three categories.
It’s an interesting viewpoint as you consider where we are now and what’s coming next, from exciting things like edge computing. In fact, Verizon is a key player in the 5G Future Forum which “envisions an interconnected and interoperable global Mobile Edge Compute ecosystem” by setting other specifications and standards to help make this a reality.
1. HD availability may depend on the specific Verizon data plan in which a customer is enrolled.
2. Lag dependent upon 5G spectrum used.
3. Based on most first place rankings in RootMetrics® 2H 2022 assessments of 125 metros. Experiences may vary. Not an endorsement. Tested with best commercially available smartphones on three national mobile networks across all available network types. Your experiences may vary. RootMetrics rankings are not an endorsement of Verizon.