The Lowdown: 5G
Momentum is growing around the upcoming mobile network
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