5G tech­nol­ogy to shake up our world

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Har­vey Mor­ris The au­thor is a se­nior me­dia con­sul­tant for China Daily. Con­tact the writer at editor@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

Who needs phone calls any­more? Num­bers are fall­ing, even though they are cheaper than ever now

The hu­mor­ous def­i­ni­tion of a smartphone is that it’s a de­vice used for ev­ery­thing ex­cept mak­ing phone calls. Since the first clunky mod­els came on the mar­ket in 1983, the mo­bile phone has evolved into an all-pur­pose per­sonal as­sis­tant and dig­i­tal com­pan­ion to one-third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

The change has been driven by ever smarter de­vices and by the in­tro­duc­tion of ever more so­phis­ti­cated net­works that can han­dle greater vol­umes of data.

The next big mile­stone is 5G — fifth gen­er­a­tion mo­bile net­works — which prom­ises to take mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tions to a whole new level. The race is on among de­vice man­u­fac­tur­ers and net­work providers to be among the first to ex­ploit 5G start­ing as early as 2019.

China’s Oppo and OnePlus have just an­nounced that they plan to launch 5G-com­pat- ible smart­phones by next year.

China is also lead­ing in the global race to build the 5G in­fra­struc­ture that the new de­vices will re­quire. Chi­nese net­work cell providers have been adding tens of thou­sands of new sites, com­pared with much slower progress in mar­kets such as the United States.

5G re­quires in­creas­ing ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture by fac­tors of up to 10. Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have said they will help mo­bile op­er­a­tors by open­ing up suit­able gov­ern­ment premises for the in­stal­la­tion of 5G base sta­tions.

So, what can 5G do that pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions couldn’t? For a start it will speed up com­mu­ni­ca­tions, promis­ing con­sumers that they will be able to down­load a fea­ture film in 10 sec­onds rather than 10 min­utes.

The higher speeds also open the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing vir­tual re­al­ity for an im­mer­sive on­line ex­pe­ri­ence, such as 3D video calls and aug­mented re­al­ity shop­ping.

The ben­e­fits of 5G could also be ex­ploited in the de­vel­op­ment of driver­less cars, where in­stant ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion is a vi­tal safety fac­tor. If you still in­sist on driv­ing your car, you could nav­i­gate by screen­ing a 3D map onto your wind­shield.

Devel­op­ers say 5G is vi­tal to the fu­ture of the so-called in­ter­net of things, in which ev­ery elec­tri­cal de­vice we use — from the fridge to the phone to the house lights — will be in­ter­con­nected. In the med­i­cal field, the new net­works could be used to mon­i­tor pa­tients.

The devel­op­ers dream of link­ing all in­ter­net­con­nected de­vices to in­ter­act with each other at light­en­ing speed.

Like all tech­no­log­i­cal leaps, 5G is likely to pro­vide the ba­sis for in­no­va­tions that haven’t been thought of yet.

Some re­searchers are claim­ing 5G could boost the global econ­omy by bil­lions of dol­lars and cre­ate jobs for mil­lions. UK mo­bile op­er­a­tor O2 has pre­dicted that 5G could gen­er­ate $7.7 bil­lion (6.8 bil­lion eu­ros; £6 bil­lion) a year in pro­duc­tiv­ity sav­ings in Bri­tain alone and save Bri­tish house­holds $574 a year in lower food and fuel costs.

It could be ar­gued that the smartphone is mov­ing so far from its orig­i­nal pur­pose that we should now find an­other term to de­scribe it: maybe “smart as­sis­tant” or “vir­tual brain” could be al­ter­na­tives.

De­spite the world­wide ex­plo­sion of smartphone use, a re­cent re­port by UK tele­com op­er­a­tor Of­com re­vealed that the num­ber of voice calls is ac­tu­ally fall­ing at a time when they are cheaper than ever.

A new gen­er­a­tion of users are now much more likely to com­mu­ni­cate via text or a range of chat apps. That has given rise to con­cerns that young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar spend too much time star­ing at their screens. It is good news for ad­ver­tis­ers, of course, who now spend one­fourth of their bud­gets on mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions.

This time next year, or maybe a bit longer, 5G will have fur­ther rev­o­lu­tion­ized our on­line lives, tak­ing the changes in which we com­mu­ni­cate, en­ter­tain our­selves and shop one step fur­ther.

One ques­tion re­mains, how­ever, about the 5G smartphone rev­o­lu­tion: Will we still be able to make a phone call?

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