The Low­down: 5G

Mo­men­tum is grow­ing around the up­com­ing mo­bile net­work

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The new su­per­fast mo­bile net­work is on the way

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT 5G?

Any­one fa­mil­iar with 4G wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity will be able to make an ed­u­cated guess that 5G – as in, the fifth gen­er­a­tion of mo­bile wire­less sys­tems – is set to be a faster, some­how bet­ter form of in­ter­net ac­cess. The prom­ise is that 5G tech­nol­ogy will in­crease data trans­fer speeds on your phone or tablet.

Yet 5G’s po­ten­tial ex­tends far be­yond faster film down­loads and stream­ing. Tele­com com­pa­nies are in­vest­ing a great deal of money into over­haul­ing wire­less broad­band to bring this next-gen­er­a­tion net­work in­fra­struc­ture to the masses.

IS THE GOV­ERN­MENT DO­ING ANY­THING TO HELP?

The dig­i­tal min­is­ter Matt Han­cock has an­nounced a £25m scheme de­signed to light a fire un­der 5G. The 5G Testbeds and Tri­als com­pe­ti­tion is part of the UK gov­ern­ment’s £740m Na­tional Pro­duc­tiv­ity In­vest­ment Fund (NPIF) to sup­port the next gen­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing 5G and full fi­bre broad­band.

WHY THE WILL­ING­NESS TO SPLASH THE CASH?

The short ver­sion is that the in­ter­net is be­com­ing sat­u­rated. While the past decade has been de­fined by the roll­out of re­li­able ac­cess through the smart­phones in our pock­ets, the com­ing few years will see an ex­plo­sion in the num­ber of con­nected de­vices, from cars to watches to fridges.

Tech­nol­ogy an­a­lyst Gart­ner predicts there will be 20.8 bil­lion con­nected de­vices by 2020. Our cur­rent net­works are sim­ply not able to sup­port that level of ac­tiv­ity.

Cou­ple bil­lions of de­vices with the de­mands of live-stream­ing 4K video and VR con­tent, and a new stan­dard is needed. En­ter 5G.

WHEN WILL THE NET­WORK BE LIVE?

A year since Qual­comm un­veiled its 5G mo­dem, the X50, the com­pany has taken a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards bring­ing the tech­nol­ogy to mar­ket. Not only has the chip maker con­sid­er­ably shrunk the X50 mo­dem, its smaller model has been used to power Qual­comm’s first 5G ref­er­ence smart­phone. This means phones ca­pa­ble of han­dling the high fre­quen­cies in­volved with the su­per­fast 5G speeds could be avail­able as soon as 2019 – a sig­nif­i­cant move away from the mega an­ten­nas cur­rently needed.

SO WE’LL HAVE 5G IN TWO YEARS?

Re­al­is­ti­cally, pure 5G smart­phones are some way off, and Qual­comm’s 5G chip will in­stead help boost the sig­nal for 4G/LTE ser­vices within the next two years.

This an­nounce­ment fol­lows the first Euro­pean test of a pub­lic 5G net­work, tak­ing place on a cruise ship. Intel rolled out the trial to demon­strate in­dus­try use cases, build­ing on the pre­vi­ous work of Eric­s­son and Telia.

The three firms are work­ing to­gether to demon­strate how much more pow­er­ful 5G can be in a real-world set­ting com­pared to 4G. The trial be­gan as an ex­per­i­ment ear­lier this month when a 5G net­work was set up in Tallinn, Es­to­nia, to al­low 2,000 pas­sen­gers ac­cess to high-speed con­nec­tions on board a docked cruise liner.

Phones ca­pa­ble of han­dling su­per­fast 5G speeds could be avail­able as soon as 2019

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