5G Will Change Life As We Know It
As the world becomes ever more connected, it won’t rely on miles and miles of cables, it will rely on a solid network infrastructure, low latency and blisteringly fast speeds – all things 5G can offer us
If someone told you that in the future wires would be less commonplace and instead we will all rely on an Internet connection that is beamed down from the sky from solar-powered drones, while still offering low latency and high speeds, you would probably think that person was crazy. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that has been suggested from the introduction of 5G.
5G is the future of mobile networks. It will succeed 4G in the next few years, which is the current networking technology used by most major phone networks in the UK and abroad. Unlike 4G that offered greater capacity and slightly faster speeds than 3G, 5G could quite literally change the way we live, work and play.
In the UK the fastest 4G network currently available is offered by EE, which claims a theoretical top speed of 300Mbps. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 5G’s theoretical speed will be at least 20Gbps and have capacity to provide more than 100Mbps average data transmission to over one million Internet of Things devices within 1sq km.
Those kind of speeds are only if network operators choose to do the bare minimum however. Nokia Networks has already showcased how it could theoretically offer speeds of up to 1Tbps, a feat also achieved by the University of Surrey. That’s significantly higher than the average broadband speed in the UK, which stands at 22.8Mbps.
For installers it’s not just about speed though, it’s also about latency – it’s why many will still rely on physical cables over a wireless connection. But that’s a problem 5G is hoping to eradicate, allowing installers greater flexibility when installing devices, as they won’t need a direct cable connection to a router.
Pretty much all home broadband connections in the UK suffer latency from the source. For Virgin Media’s 100Mbps broadband, the average latency is around 20ms, which isn’t too bad. Gamers require a latency below 100ms to be enjoyable – so Virgin Media’s isn’t exactly bad, but the lower the number the better.
That’s where 5G comes in, 5G promises latency of less than 1ms, according to the GSMA. Not only does the association promise super low latency however, it also believes that 5G will offer perceived 99.9% availability and 100% geographical coverage – a huge ask considering 4G has yet to achieve such numbers. 5G will also supposedly consume very little power, with the GSMA saying that it should offer devices 10 years of life even if they’re constantly connected to the network.
5G Use Cases
With all these significant improvements to mobile networking technologies, what are the potential use cases for 5G?
The GSMA believes that 5G could enable things that are not currently commonplace in the world, alongside enhancing things that are. That includes improvements to the way users consume content. 5G should eradicate buffering, with whole 4K films being downloaded in around a second, while real-time gaming on mobile devices will finally be realised. Consuming content on the go using a virtual reality or augmented reality headset should also be a reality.
5G will also bring new experiences to the forefront. Governments will be able to easily monitor sensor networks across an entire municipality, for instance. Car makers will also be able to take advantage of the network to power their autonomous vehicles – a technology that is set to explode within the next decade.
While those are heavily discussed future use cases, the GSMA believes that 5G could create new technologies currently not available. Things such as a ‘tactile internet’, which will supposedly enable people to ‘feel’ what’s going on anywhere in the world across the Internet. One example of this is using a robot to perform surgery, while still being able to intimately feel every crevice and sensation. While it sounds like something from science fiction, scientists believe that it’s something that will become commonplace.
5G is also set to have a major impact on the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine (M2M) communication.
In 2020 there are expected to be between one and two billion M2M connections. Most of these devices, whether they’re smart metres, smart thermostats or smoke detectors, transmit very low levels of data and the data transmitted is seldom time-critical. For these devices it isn’t the low-latency or speeds of 5G networks that is needed, it’s the fact that 5G technology is set to consume very low amounts of power. That means an installer could one day integrate an Internet of Things device into places where it would be too cumbersome or entirely unfeasible to run power to.
A fast connection and low-latency could also benefit Internet of Things devices. Imagine a user who is being driven by an autonomous car being alerted of a potential break in at their house. The user will then be able to reroute the car or see live images of what’s going on using their IP camera. If they choose to redirect the car, then the car will be able to plot a route home communicating with the city and other cars to determine the quickest route.
So how will 5G make its way into our lives? Well there’s a variety of tests currently planned throughout the world – including two in Europe. Estonia is set to have one of the first tests, with one of the country’s mobile operators planning to begin testing 5G in the second half of 2016. Sweden will then follow with a similar test, although Stockholm is hoping to have a solid 5G network available in 2018.
It’s not just tech-forward countries where 5G will play a major role either. In the UK Boris Johnson has already signalled his desire to have London at the forefront of 5G technologies and even the European Union has revealed an ‘action plan’ for the rollout of 5G.
There’s currently no date set in stone for the rollout of 5G in the UK, but pretty much every company in the mobile networking industry is working on it – so you can expect a rollout to happen by 2020. It will require a new round of spectrum sell-offs by Ofcom however, with trials in other parts of the world already expected to use much higher frequencies; for instance, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo is set to use the 70GHz band for 5G (in the UK 4G uses the 800MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.6GHz bands).
How the millions of users will receive their 5G networking connections is yet to be seen. While companies like Nokia Networks and Huawei are planning to deliver the network the traditional way – using mobile relay towers – Google is thinking a little more futuristic. The search giant plans to deliver its 5G signal through a network of solar-powered drones. So that future where we will all rely on an Internet connection that is beamed down from the sky from solar-powered drones may not be too crazy after all.