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Everything you need to know about 5G

5G is finally here. After months of intense build up, the fifth generation of mobile networks is starting to be rolled out, bringing with it promises of faster connectivity, more reliability and lower internet congestion. The 5G network follows previous generations of 2G, 3G and, most recently, 4G.

If you’ve been eagerly awaiting the launch of the network, here are a few questions you might want answering before you take the 5G plunge.

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile network connectivity. It is the successor to the current broadband connection, 4G, and will transform internet connectivity forever. 5G will make everything faster; data transfers, uploads speeds, download speeds, and will enable more stable connections with wider coverage. Not only will it be faster than ever before, it will be able to send more information between devices, meaning faster response times and a reduction in latency.

For users, 5G will do everything that 3G and 4G enabled you to do; browse, share, watch and stream, however it will also open up a whole new world of opportunities, including transformational growth with IoT, AR and AI capabilities. The hyper-connectivity that 5G brings between smart devices and machines will result in intelligent new processes that have never been possible before now.

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How fast is 5G?

5G is fast. Faster than fast. In fact, probably the only connotation that comes to mind when you hear 5G, is the word fast. It’s grabbing headlines due to its likely speeds expected to reach in excess of 1Gb/s and projected speeds for the future could see speeds of 10Gb/s, which is 100 times faster than 4G.

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To put into perspective how fast that actually is, currently your average HD film may take a day to download with 3G coverage and around 10 minutes on 4G. If on 5G, the same film will be downloaded is around 5 seconds. That’s a whole lot of film watching!

How does 5G work?

Alike to its predecessors, 5G will carry communications wirelessly over the air via radio frequencies. 5G uses an advanced radio frequency to transfer data faster and more efficiently. The radio frequencies are higher and shorter, meaning less congesting internet traffic and more available bandwidth for the information to be sent.

Although these higher bands are faster than previously seen, they are less well suited to carry information over long distances because of their shorter wavelengths. The frequency can also be blocked by physical objects such as building and trees, so you might see clusters of smaller masts closer together in order to boost capacity between single standalone masts.

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Before 5G, MIMO (multiple-input/multiple-output) technology was used to send and receive data signals between several antennas simultaneously. 5G upgrades this digital technology to Massive MIMO, meaning that rather than just a handful of antennas sharing information, now a few hundred will be. Algorithms for Massive MIMO are able to plot the best transmission route through the air to each user. For users, this means 5G can serve multiple users and multiple devices simultaneously, while still maintaining speed and consistency.

How is 5G different to 4G?

It’s a common misconception that 5G is just a faster version of 4G. Yes, it is faster than 4G and it is an improvement of 4G, but 5G isn’t just a step up from its forerunner, like 4G was to 3G. 5G will be the driving force for a digital revolution.

Each generation prior to 5G has brought its own benefits. 2G connectivity saw the birth of basic internet, texts and MMS. 3G upgraded to better internet, streaming and basic video calling. 4G was a game changer and made speeds up to 500 times faster than 3G, allowing for outside speeds to compete with home broadband. 4G brought high-quality video calling, supported HD TV on mobile, and super-fast mobile browsing. All of which were essential as the proliferation of smartphones and tablets evolved from what once came before.

5G is almost compulsory as the world now paves the way for a new era of technology and creates new economic opportunity; including IoT, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and autonomous machines. 5G has been referred to as “the network of networks”, and will be encoded into technologies ‘DNA’ for both business and in the home. Less interference and better efficiency that comes with 5G will support the introduction of smart cities, and a smart world.

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What will 5G enable us to do?

5G will enable us to do everything we do now, only faster, smarter and more efficiently. Day to day, 5G will allow for clearer calling with less background noise, while making and receiving calls and using data won’t interrupt download speeds, and there will be less pixelation and buffering when making video calls. Using 5G at home and out and about will keep you connected instantly, as it’s expected to be faster than most fixed line broadband.

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For consumers, imagine smart homes and smart work spaces. Alike to when you unlock your car with central locking, imagine unlocking your house without a physical key. Once inside, a smart home can have your lights already turned on and is already at your desired temperature. Moving from room to room will turn more lights on and switch off the rooms you’ve left. Currently, ownership of smart home devices, which are examples of IoT devices embedded with sensors and other electronics to send and receive data over a network, has doubled since 2016. A statistic which is likely to increase with the advantage of IoT.

How will 5G reduce latency?

One of the key differentiators between 5G and its predecessors is the reduction in latency. For those that are unaware of what latency is, it’s the time it takes devices to communicate wirelessly with each other; it’s the time taken for data to reach its destination via the network and back again (such as a text message from one phone to another and the sender receiving a Delivered notification). Whilst your device is transferring data, latency is the measure of delay, measured in milliseconds.

Online, latency is seen as responsiveness. For example, how long a web page takes to load. Latency occurs when the devices are on a slow network and the bandwidth capacity cannot support the large transfer of data being sent.

With the speeds, bandwidth, and capacity that 5G brings, these issues are now a thing of the past. 5G will increase the rate in which data can be transferred and cuts down the response time to 1-10 milliseconds (the time on 4G was 30-50 milliseconds). This means you can expect lightning fast connectivity and responsiveness, without any lag time. This will be imperative for mission critical services as they rely on network connectivity to transfer data.

What will 5G mean for businesses?       

For business, 5G will fuel the growth in certain industries by unlocking business potential. Expect to see automated factories, remote health care and autonomous vehicles. Expect faster downloads and better connectivity, and see a rise of IoT, AR and AI as 5G aims to power the rise.

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5G will change advance offerings from communication service providers; 4G rearranged the landscape with data packages outweighing voice and SMS, and now 5G will change the game again as providers can offer more cost-efficient services (10x lower cost per gigabyte than current 4G).

With 5G comes ‘network slicing’, where operators will be able to slice the 5G network to allocate capacity matching specific requirements. This is a game changer for network management and demonstrates the adaptiveness of 5G. Consumers downloading films, IoT devices transferring data and automonmous cars will each have different network requirements, the latter needing enough to enable responsiveness and little latency.

Businesses will be able to rent a 5G slice for their requirements, which will be an isolated network connection without any surrounding congestion.

5G and IoT

IoT in business has been gradually growing over the past few years, with businesses of all sizes seeing the benefits it can bring. With 5G this will only accelerate, as the new fifth generation network will help collect and transfer huge amounts of data in an efficient, responsive and high-speed way.

5G will set itself aside from previous networks in IoT, as current wireless infrastructure hasn’t got the capacity to accommodate the mass of devices exchanging information, without slight lags. 5G will provide the infrastructure needed to carry huge amounts of data and will support the devices that demand internet access, as many require a higher bandwidth to cope.

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Has 5G already been rolled out?

Most countries can expect to have access to 5G by 2020, however some networks across the globe have already made 5G commercially available. In the UK, EE was the first network to make 5G available in 5 UK cites. Vodafone has also rolled out its 5G network in 7 UK cities. Both networks have plans to have more cities connected by the end of 2019. In the US, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint has all made 5G available in certain parts of the country.

Further afield, in South Korea, SK Telecom and KT have each rolled out 5G, along with Ooredoo in Qatar.

Does 5G mean the end of fixed line services?

5G is said to be as fast and as reliable as fixed line services, including home broadband, leading some to wonder whether ending fixed-line contracts is the best move. Many will still prefer the stability and certainty of physical wires, however good wireless connectivity becomes.

5G, as it continues to be rolled out, will aim to be a complementary service for users when out and about rather than a replacement to fixed line. This is likely as as many telecoms companies have spent years investing in fibre optic and copper wire fixed line broadband and would be reluctant to switch to wireless as soon as it’s available. Those wanting to ditch their fixed line should also consider the stability of the connection as full-fibre services will beat 5G as it stands, as it connects to the mobile mast without dropping signal strength when a bus or lorry becomes an obstacle to 5G waves.

It’s likely that domestic and office broadband will stick with being primarily fixed line for the upcoming years, although fixed wireless access may be made available when needed.