Everything You Need to Know About 5G
5G is coming, and like 4G before it, it promises to
completely change the way we view mobile and wireless internet. But what
exactly is it, and how is it different to 4G. This article will explore a few of
the significant changes this new generation of technology will bring to users.
This one can’t have escaped your attention. Every new generation of mobile internet represents an exponential growth in bandwidth available to users. Below we’ve compared the headline speeds touted by networks for each generation of technology:
2G: 0.3 Mbps
3G: 42 Mbps
4G: 1 Gbps
5G: 10Gbps [some reports have put the maximum speeds of 5G as high as 20Gbps]
If these speeds seem a little inflated to you, that’s because they are. 4G, for example, is capable of pushing data to you at speeds of up to 1 Gbps, but you’ll rarely see more than a tenth of that in practice. A better metric would be the average speeds reported by users. We’ve listed these below:
2G: 0.1 Mbps
3G: 8 Mbps
4G: 50 Mbps
5G: 200-550 Mbps [it’s difficult to get an accurate figure on 5G’s average speeds since the networks are so new]
That’s more like it. 50 Mbps seems about right for our experience of 4G. Certainly fast enough to stream moderately high quality video and give a snappy browsing experience, but not enough to really revolutionise the internet. In comparison, you can expect to get at least 200 Mbps with 5G connectivity, which we’re sure you’ll agree is a lot of bandwidth going to a handheld device. Along with other advances, this bandwidth opens up new possibilities for cloud services like remote computing, which could bring console-level quality to mobile gaming by farming out the heavy lifting of the graphics and physics to beefy servers in the cloud.
Gaming’s all well and good, but what about business users? This is where the much lower latency of 5G connections comes in. Latency is the amount of time it takes for a piece of information sent by a device to reach its destination. Below we’ve listed the average latencies of the previous generations so you can see the difference for yourself:
To put this into context, the latency of your home ADSL broadband will average in the range 20-50ms. Fibre and cable offerings drop this to 10-20ms. So why is latency important? Well, think about a constant stream of data coming to your device in the form of, say, a voice or video call. If that data takes longer to arrive at your device, or if some of it arrives quicker than the rest, the quality of the call drops significantly. A latency of 1-10ms will almost guarantee great quality voice and video calls placed over the internet. From anywhere. Eventually you’ll be able to join a video conference in full HD from the top of a mountain, if you really wanted to. The lower latency of 5G is also crucial to allow future development of technologies that until now have been reserved for science fiction – augmented reality for movies, hologram calls, self-driving cars and even surgeries performed by machines controlled by a doctor in another building.
Because 5G operates at much higher frequencies than 4G, the range of each signal tower is much lower than it was before. While this presents a headache for the networks, it means that in practice 5G connectivity will be provided by a massive quantity of smaller, lower-powered ‘cells’ (short-range transmitters). Each of these cells is able to support at least as many simultaneous connections as the current 4G towers, which will allow for pretty much everything in your life to be connected to the internet. The Internet of Things (or IoT) is promising to integrate the internet even further into our day-to-day lives. As a rather mundane example, traffic lights could be linked to chips in cars so that they know how many cars are waiting and therefore when to change the lights. Sensors in the road could alert drivers of connected cars, or even driverless cars, to change routes to avoid traffic.
These aren’t the most glamorous of examples but hopefully they do highlight the extent to which 5G can bring the advantages of internet connectivity to everyday life – less traffic and less time spent sitting at red lights sounds pretty good to us.
When should I get a 5G phone?
That depends where you live. As with 4G’s launch a decade or so ago, 5G has only been rolled out to a few cities in the UK at the time of writing. This is likely to expand in the next year or so as more networks roll out over a larger area, but if 4G is anything to go by, it will be at least a few years before 5G connectivity becomes ubiquitous. The answer also depends on how much money you’ve got burning a hole in your wallet. 5G phones are available, but they are not exactly affordable (yet).
We’ll leave it up to you to make a decision, but 5G is far from mature in the UK. It has hugely exciting potential, but it’s still early days and networks are charging a huge premium to the early adopters, as they usually do. One thing is for sure – 5G’s not going away any time soon, and for better or worse it is going to introduce the internet to more aspects of our lives than ever before. We certainly do live in interesting times.