The next generation of superfast mobile technology, 5G, could be rolled out as early as next year. Promising faster streaming on mobiles and tablets and speeding up the Internet of Things by allowing thousands of computers to talk to each other. But what is 5G, how will it change our lives and how different is it to 4G?
It’s a brand-new radio technology, promising faster streaming, downloads and uploads speeds, wider coverage and more stable connections. It will enable more devices to access the internet at the same time and will allow devices connected to the Internet of Things to work more seamlessly.
Users will get much richer content, far more detailed because of the bandwidth capabilities, and can react to the network much faster – it would take approximately eight seconds to download a film to your phone, for example.
This need for a faster network has come about due to more data being consumed every year, and this is only set to increase. Existing spectrum bands are naturally becoming congested with heavier use, and to avoid service degradation 5G is more capable at handling thousands of devices simultaneously.
However, users may not notice significantly higher speeds at first. Initially 5G is likely to be used by network operators as a way to improve capacity on existing 4G networks. The speed consumers will get will depend on which spectrum band the operator runs the 5G technology on, along with other factors such as carrier investment and geographical roadmaps.
At an auction that took place earlier this year, mobile operators in the UK bid over a billion pounds for chunks of radio spectrum to enable them to roll out the new technology. During the auction, O2, EE, Vodafone and Three all won portions of the spectrum, with O2 acquiring the most. Across two spectrums, 2.3GHz will be available for immediate use to provide extra capacity for their existing networks. All 40MHz of this spectrum was won by O2. The second spectrum, 3.4GHz spectrum, is currently not compatible with most current devices but will be used for the rollout of 5G networks.
This is because most countries are unlikely to launch 5G services before 2020, so we should expect to see 5G handsets launching at the end of 2019 when the networks are ready. These next generation handsets will be able to shift seamlessly between 4G and 5G. Phone manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei and Lenovo have all announced their commitment to making 5G ready phones by next year and chipmaker Qualcomm will be making 5G a reality in its next 7nm Snapdragon chip.
However, this isn’t the end of 4G – the newer generation has to work with 4G to be comprehensive. Investment will still continue, but there is a duty to the future, and to develop 5G due to its huge economic potential. The government has predicted that 5G could bring 173 billion pounds of incremental economic benefit to the UK.
5G is far beyond a device, it is a connected network that is needed to combat the changing behaviour of the market and for the benefits it will bring to various industries, sectors and enterprises. It will open up many opportunities and we could see completely new services built with the introduction of the network.