By Mark Richards.
5G is going to bring major changes to connectivity and download speeds. Some industries will be changed out of all recognition. So what changes can we expect to see? And what price will we have to pay for those changes?
Last week both South Korea and the USA launched commercial 5G services, which should bring a ‘new wave’ of capability and connectivity for smartphone users. Samsung claimed that its Galaxy S10 5G device will offer speeds that are up to 20x faster than current phones as it began selling the handsets.
Last May there was a conference in California which might just shape all our futures. Six hundred delegates hammered out the rules, guidelines and international standards that will shape the future of 5G – or, to use its full title, Fifth Generation.
What exactly is 5G? And what will it do?
5G is technically the protocols which came out of that conference which covered everything from what frequency radio waves should be used to how cell towers should verify which phones they are talking with.
What will it do? 5G will simply be faster. Users should get more data, get it faster and enjoy better and more stable connections.
Quoted in a BBC article, Ed Barton, chief television and entertainment analyst at Ovum, said the shift from 4G to 5G would be significant. 1G brought voice, 2G gave us text, 3G images or photos and 4G enabled video. “We’re expecting the leap from 4G to 5G to be a much greater leap than ever before,” said Barton.
The current 4G tends to offer download speeds of around 20Mbps (megabytes per second). That is enough to download a movie in HD in around 30 minutes. 5G will offer download speeds of 500 to 1,500Mbps – so you will be downloading your Saturday night movie in around 25-30 seconds.
That is incredibly quick – very clearly you cannot make a cup of tea in 30 seconds or nip to the kitchen for another can of beer – so providing you have a good connection, 5G will see everything becoming more or less instant. But coverage – or the lack of it – is one of the key questions.
Will 5G really improve coverage?
Possibly… Which areas do and do not get coverage is still very much a business decision made by the phone companies. Now you may feel – as I do – that a good mobile phone signal is now an integral part of life and as essential as water coming out of a tap and that the UK Government should not stand any nonsense from the phone companies. But they do – and the phone companies will continue to weigh the cost of new towers against the potential revenue form users in that area.
Businesses continue to suffer
There is no question that UK businesses – especially in rural areas – are being held back by poor 4G connectivity. It is a perennial theme of the Federation of Small Business, who pointed out in December last year that while 90% of businesses could now, in theory, access superfast broadband the figure had only increased by 1% in the previous 12 months. More significantly, while 83% of urban homes and offices have complete 4G coverage, rural premises get less than half that coverage, with no coverage at all in some remote parts of the country.
I would even question those figures. My office is supposedly connected to North Yorkshire NYnet superfast broadband. Download speeds are no better than they are at home, and connectivity at my house is not as good as the pub up the road. So if I become heavily reliant on download speeds there is only one logical place to base my business…
But there may be hope. What 5G should do is allow the phone companies to build much smaller base stations – possibly the size of a mini-fridge – which means they will be able to be placed in locations that previously were not practical or accessible. In cities that could mean that every other lamppost is a base station. And in rural areas, it will hopefully make the process of getting planning permission for base stations a lot easier.
So what will 5G bring us?
The most exciting answer to that question is, ‘we do not know.’ For example, once your smartphone could process payments and was aware of your location, it gave rise to companies like Uber and Lyft.
But you are not reading this for a pathetic answer like ‘I do not know’ so let us look into the crystal ball and come up with some 5G predictions. Although if you are in the UK, it may be a good idea to move to London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham or Manchester. These are the cities that are supposed to have the 5G capability by the middle of this year…
Gaming and Gambling
If you are into sports – and backing your opinion – then 5G will undoubtedly impact you. It will give a better experience if you are watching live sport and/or you are playing online games against other people. As we wrote on Friday, Esports are fast catching up on ‘real’ sports and 5G is only going to accelerate that trend.
Mapping and shopping
5G is going to allow your phone to know even more about you – and as the AI algorithms become ever-more powerful, expect your shopping to become more and more personalised. Just walking past Next? There is a notification on your phone, with a special offer, just for you. And stick-thin models could become a thing of the past. 5G and augmented reality could allow the catwalk models to look exactly like you…
Driverless cars and smart cities
5G will undoubtedly speed up the arrival of driverless cars – and if every other lamppost can be a base station then those driverless cars are going to take in all the information they need from the smart cities they are driving through. Quite how those driverless cars will fare when the passenger wants to go into the countryside – where the phone companies still have not bothered about the signal – is another matter…
What about security?
Sadly we need to finish on this dystopian note. 5G will undoubtedly bring major benefits: it will undoubtedly bring another Uber – a development no-one predicted that completely changes another traditional industry. But the cost will be more and more of your personal data and a loss of privacy. And as we have already seen with the many stories about Huawei, 5G may bring a Brave New World – but it will also bring a much less private new world…