5G (fifth generation) is essentially the next step up and the replacement for your current 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) connection. The main benefits that this new generation of mobile broadband should bring are faster upload and download speeds and faster communication with wireless networks (latency).
Most carriers currently use low-band spectrum or LTE, which offers great coverage area and penetration yet it is getting very crowded and peak data speeds only top out at around 100Mbps.
5G, on the other hand, offers 3 different Spectrum bands, which are:
- Low-band spectrum or LTE/sub 1GHz spectrum.
- Mid-band spectrum. This gives faster coverage and better latency than low-band but isn’t as good at penetrating buildings. Mid-band spectrum will offer peak speeds up to 1Gbps.
- High-band spectrum / mmWave . This spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10 Gbps and has very low latency, although it has a low coverage area and building penetration is poor.
- In the UK, it is likely that there will be 2 different, location-based frequencies. Sub-6GHz (gigahertz) is likely to be the first offered to users, and the (expensive) high-band spectrum / mmWave for use in densely populated areas. This could mean limitations on where an owner can use their 5G phone (when they eventually get one).
What Can We Expect From 5G?
More frequencies, faster speeds and less latency should mean big improvements in broadband (particularly commercial) and an end to slowdowns during busy times of day that have been experienced due to the overcrowding of the current limited LTE.
How Fast is Faster?
Theoretically, the maximum speed for 5G should be a hundred times faster than the current 4G technology can provide i.e. 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) rather than 100 megabits per second (Mbps).
Peak data rates with 5G could reach 20Gbps downlink and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station (for all users in the cell), but 5G users will not actually experience this speed unless they have a dedicated connection.
Swedish phone company Ericsson’s research and development team have just reported setting a new maximum speed record on 5G connections, by achieving download rates of 4.3Gbps on the millimeter wave spectrum during interoperability testing using commercial products.
Also, the frequency spectrum needed for 5G is finite, and even with additional spectrum that has been auctioned to the UK’s mobile networks, more will be needed. This may mean some crowded traffic in the first wave, with things not improving until more auctions have taken place.
It is also likely that other technologies will need to be developed and trialled in order to help 5G live up to its promise. Lessons learned about 5G in other countries (e.g. China) will take time to be noted and incorporated in the UK network to help it deliver maximum benefits.
Real-Life Business Applications
Anticipated ways that 5G could improve things in our lives and for businesses include:
- Improvements to health care. Communications and sensor networks in health care are likely to be improved, therefore benefiting patients, doctors and other staff.
- Improvements in the IoT as devices require fewer resources, and huge numbers of devices can connect to a single base station, making them much more efficient. IoT improvements could help with all kinds of services e.g. public services such as smart bins and smart lighting, remote healthcare services, and CCTV / surveillance services.
- A boost to virtual and augmented reality.
- Benefits for the growing autonomous vehicle market as 5G provides the constant, guaranteed connection that they need, enables better communication with other vehicles on the road and better provision of information to other cars about road conditions, as well as improvements in the performance of information given to drivers and automakers.
- Advantages for companies operating delivery drone/robot services e.g. Amazon may also get a boost from reliable and powerful 5G connections.
- Advantages for local authorities and local infrastructure (monitoring and control for streetlights, drain/flood information) and for utility and other companies that use remote sensors.
- The low latency of 5G offering allowing more remote device control e.g. reducing risk in hazardous environments and allowing technicians with specialised skills to control machinery from anywhere in the world.
Challenges For 5G Phone Manufacturers
For phone manufacturers, manufacturing 5G phones is a slightly different and more complex proposition. For example:
- 5G phones are more complex e.g. they need a more complex antenna. These mean extra production costs which are likely to be passed on (with first-wave prices) to customers. It is thought that 5G compatible phones will be priced between £450-£540, with higher prices for leading brand models e.g. Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
- The miniaturisation of more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smartphone.
- Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation, and many customers may simply delay buying a 5G anyway until they are confident that 5G is performing well and will offer them all the benefits.
- The first 5G smartphones need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).
Despite the challenges, 5G phones have been available for some time now many people have been holding off from buying them until the 5G connection services become more widely available. It is estimated that 260 million new 5G phones will be produced worldwide in 2020.
Whereas Sony has recently announced that it is launching its first 5G smartphone this month (Xperia 1 II flagship handset), which many see as a bid to prop up its struggling smartphone business, Huawei and Samsung are currently ahead in the 5G phone market.
Some commentators have noted, however, that although 5G services have now been rolled out in the UK by many of the networks and 5G phones are available, there is still some scepticism in the UK marketplace about the benefits vs costs of getting 5G phones at this early stage, and there appears to be a general feeling among consumers that 5G is not ready for mainstream adoption yet.
5G has taken nearly 10 years to develop and so far in the UK, EE launched its 5G service in May 2019, Vodafone followed in July 2019, O2 launched its 5G service in October, and BT Mobile also launched its 5G service in October 2019.
Sky Mobile entered the market with its 5G service in January 2020 and although the Three network launched for home broadband in parts of London in August last year, it has not yet expanded this to its phones.
Viavi Solutions (The State of 5G Deployments report) reveals that commercial 5G networks have now been deployed in 378 cities across 34 countries, with the most cities with 5G availability in South Korea (85) and with 5G now available in 31 UK cities.
The same increased speed and lower latency of 5G that allows downloading films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering is also likely to provide many new and innovative opportunities and could help provide a boost to new industries.
Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas.
Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK, and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.
We will, however, have to wait for 5G networks and services to be operating fully and offering all the predicted benefits, and as well as being somewhat expensive, purchasing a 5G phone may be something that many people will still hold-off doing until they’re confident they’ll get the promised value from it.