5G has been on the verge of being released for what feels like a lifetime but now looks set to finally be delivered to certain parts of the UK before being deployed nationwide. What exactly is 5G is and what we can expect from it?
This year, there has been a lot of talk about 5G as it is set to finally be rolled out to certain UK cities, before rolling out to others if all goes well. However, what exactly is 5G? And why should we care? In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about 5G (and how we got to this point) and what we can expect from it when it is finally available to everyone.
What is 5G?
Before delving straight into 5G, it is worth knowing the history of the previous ‘G’s’ and how we got to 5G.
5G stands for ‘fifth generation mobile networks’, and this is what it is – the fifth version of cellular mobile telecommunications. In Layman’s terms, it is the standard that mobile network operators (such as EE and Vodafone) use to allow users with mobile devices to communicate with one another, together with the upgraded supporting hardware that allows users with compatible phones to take advantage of this.
A brief history of mobile telephony standards
As you have probably guessed, there were 4 other generations before 5G – with each new generation providing new functionality or improving existing functionality of the previous generation. A brief overview of each generation can be found below:
- 1G – this was the first generation of wireless telephone technology. This was the first step in transmitting data from one location to another. The main difference with 1G to the other generations is that the radio signals used were analogue, as opposed to digital
- 2G – the transition from analogue to digital had now completed, bringing with it a whole host of improvements. Amongst the improvements were: phone conversations are digitally encrypted (so more secure); greater mobile phone penetration levels and data services are now available (such as text messaging).
- 3G – transfer rates were greatly improved, and later 3G releases provided mobile broadband for smartphones and mobile modems in laptops. This opened up a whole new world where you could make calls using voice telephony, access to the internet, mobile television and video calls.
- 4G – this provides all of what 3G does plus the ability for IP telephony, gaming services, HD mobile TV and cloud computing. Data transfer speeds had also improved.
Benefits of 5G
5G has been eagerly anticipated for a while now, but is all the hype justified? It’s probably quite difficult to tell just now.
The main benefit of 5G is that it will be much faster than its predecessor – as much as 100 times faster, allegedly. Later versions of 4G networks delivered download speeds of 300Mbit/s, whereas 5G promises between 1Gb/s and 10Gb/s. So for example, if you were to download a high definition movie on a 5G network, it would in theory take less than 10 seconds do this – which is ridiculously fast, and importantly much faster than most “standard” wired broadband connections
The other benefit is that 5G will have much lower latency. This means that if you are streaming a movie for example, the delay/lag will be so low that it will be unnoticeable as a user. This will be critical in emerging technologies such as self-driving cars as even the slightest delay could put the ‘passenger’s’ health and safety at risk. Many believe the introduction of 5G was to accommodate the widespread implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT) – such as smart fridges, self-driving cars and even clothing.
The final main benefit is that networks will be able to cope with numerous devices talking back to it (i.e. greater upload speeds as opposed to just downloads, traditionally a weak point for mobile and wired broadband) as it has a greater capacity. This means that the user’s connection will be faster and more stable when streaming HD movies or using their IoT devices, and also when accessing online resources such as company networks where data traffic can easily be significant in both directions.
Benefits of 5G in the workplace
With today’s working environment becoming more and more digital, it is fair to assume that 5G will certainly benefit the workplace. Some of the potential benefits include:
- Some companies may have a backup internet connection in place using 4G. While this provides a decent internet connection temporarily until the primary internet connection is up and running again, the reliability and speeds of 4G mean it isn’t really acceptable for larger periods of time. With 5G’s great speeds and higher latency, a 5G backup could even rival your primary internet connection!
- Remote working is becoming more and more common in the workplace as it means users don’t necessarily have to physically be in the office to work or even be in the same country to have meetings with clients. However, if a user tries to connect remotely or host a video conference call using 4G, there can be issues with lag or the call just not working altogether. With 5G, businesses will have constant, reliable access to an internet connection and therefore be able to work remotely without worrying about connection issues
- Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) applications are expected to make waves in the workplace. In order for these applications to succeed though, they will need to have fast and reliable internet connections. For example, in the construction industry, it is already possible to demonstrate to shareholders/clients what a building will might look like once it is complete using AR and VR - so you now don’t have to use your imagination but instead these applications will literally show you what it might look like using a combination of VR/AR applications and drawing tools. With 5G, you could even stream this live so the shareholders/clients don’t even have to be present to see what the building might look like
- Network slicing will now be possible with 5G so an IT administrator can separate virtual networks to allow each ‘slice’ to be customised to meet the needs of the client, device or application etc. This will ensure you are maximising the flexibility of your 5G network as you can allocate different resources to different network segments/slices, thus making it more efficient
- Before an employee even reaches their place of work, they will experience the benefits of 5G via their chosen method of commute. 5G will enable smart and automated transport to prosper. The result of this is that potentially less time will be spent commuting due to faster and more efficient transport. Also , if a train for example implements 5G hotspots on each carriage, employees will be able to work effectively whilst on the move – which currently can be quite hit or miss depending on carrier, location and the devices you use to access the network.
Issues surrounding 5G
However, 5G’s benefits will also bring with it some challenges and security concerns:
- Businesses will need to start replacing devices that are not built for 5G if they want to take advantage of 5G in the workplace. This could be costly and difficult to do, especially if they are currently using legacy devices/software
- If 5G is set to be commonplace, Mobile Network Operators will need to ensure the appropriate infrastructure is in place, which will be a big challenge and expensive. For example, 5G will require a lot more data towers to pass the signal between each data tower as 5G works in a way that requires each data tower to be closer together in order to transfer the signal from one location to another
- If companies decide to implement 5G, and they normally cover the costs of mobile network contracts for every user, they will need to consider how much more it will cost for 5G to be used – especially if more devices will need 5G access.
- In terms of deploying 5G to the office, MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) antennas will need to be purchased and placed in a location that causes minimal interference. 5G also doesn’t go through walls very well so there has to be multiple small cells to cope with this
- With 5G being introduced, this will naturally increase the attack surface area for hackers as all sorts of devices/services will be introduced to the workplace. This means there will be more holes for hackers to get into
- There are a number of security concerns surrounding some of the international vendors of mobile infrastructure equipment, potentially reducing the network carriers choice of technology partners, delaying implementation time and possibly increasing costs making 5G institutionally more expensive the 4G.
5G release date in the UK
The release date for 5G in the UK is a little bit misleading and vague. Reports suggest it will be available in the UK by the middle of this year. However, it will only be available in selected cities - London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Even then, this will only be a trial period so we don’t know how many people will actually have access to 5G. If this trial is a success then we would expect to see it rolled out to the rest of the UK in 2020.
While 5G will certainly open up more digital possibilities, and looks certain to at least improve productivity through its improved speeds and reliability, it’s probably too soon to say for sure that it will completely revolutionise the way everyone works. Whilst all of the mentioned benefits are possible, it’s important to note that although the 5G standards are about to be delivered, it will still be a while before the products have caught up and are actually able to utilise 5G. So whilst it is important to be aware of 5G and prepare for it, it is worth approaching this with a bit of caution.