5G technology to shake up our world
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?