From 3G to 4G, mobile connectivity has revolutionised our lives. Now 5G is set to do it again
We now live in a world where internet is fast-becoming a human right, the days of GPRS seem like a prehistoric thing of the past and we grow ever more demanding for faster, more reliable network connectivity while on the move.
At its rollout, 3G was touted as the technology to enable the future phone and facilitate technological advancements. As did 4G when the 3G network became weathered and unfit to accommodate the newer, smarter devices being released which relied on its network.
For years 4G has served the world well. Half-decent speeds almost anywhere in the UK is a luxury we now take for granted and are beginning to resent. 4G is now becoming the 3G of modern times, a technology unable to meet the demand of its users or the smart devices connected to it.
In comes 5G, already available in select parts of America and Australia, all the major telcos in Britain are vying to be the first to give the nation what it wants and needs: mobile internet speeds that beat those in most households and latency so low surgeries can be performed over the network.
5G is just around the corner and it can't come soon enough. It will be the driving force that underpins autonomous vehicles, expansive IoT implementation and the fastest mobile internet we've ever experienced.
5G will enable the IoT
The first 5G networks and devices are expected to be available within the next two years, however, they're unlikely to achieve commercial success until the early 2020s. While the exact definition of what constitutes 5G is a cause of contention among technologists and companies, it's best to look at 5G as simply being smarter, faster and more efficient than 4G.
As we enter an era where more people and devices are connected to the internet, it'll be crucial to have a mobile network standard that can support huge demand. 5G networks will also enable more effective device-to-device communication, provide more bandwidth and lower latency thanks to built-in computing intelligence.
4G was a massive feat for mobile technology, but nobody could really predict how fast smartphones and tablets would evolve. There are also big differences in terms of speed. Although 5G is still under debate and evolving, there have been some key milestones.
For instance, in 2015, 5G researchers working at the University of Surrey were able to reach speeds of 1Tbit/sec. Just to compare, 4G can hit speeds of 300mbps. A high-speed mobile network will be crucial if communication between ever-increasing amounts of connected devices is to be effective.
Alex Gledhill, from Intel UK, gives a good description of this technology: "5G is envisioned as an end to end ecosystem that enables a fully mobile and connected society. In a nutshell, 5G networks will provide more data bandwidth and less latency due to built-in computing intelligence aimed at handling more data more efficiently than today's 4G networks."
Coping with demand
Low latency will also be a key differentiator between 4G and 5G. That means you'll be able to download and upload files quickly and easily, without having worry about the network or phone suddenly crashing. Once you've downloaded an item, response times will be better. For example, you'll be able to watch a 4K video almost straight away, and you shouldn't experience any pausing or buffering during playback.
5G will also fix bandwidth issues. Currently, there are so many different devices connected to 3G and 4G networks, they don't have the infrastructure to cope effectively. 5G will be able to handle current devices and emerging technologies such as driverless cars and connected home products.
Although we're still a few years away from rollout, there have been some positive strides made in the development of the connectivity. Intel is one of the companies pioneering 5G in partnership with mobile network infrastructure providers and carriers.
"Intel has partnered with AT&T and Ericsson to launch the first 5G business customer trial at Intel's Austin, Texas, facility. That doesn't mean the current networks will go away. They will funnel into 5G, updating along with devices and technologies," Gledhill tells IT Pro.
"To deliver 5G connectivity and intelligence, we must work together and industry partnerships are more critical than ever. No one company can move this technology forward alone, which means collaboration between industry leaders from device and equipment manufacturers to network operators and service providers is vital."
Intel isn't the only company focusing on 5G. Qualcomm is also working on 5G chips to embed in devices. The company's X50 modem was revealed last year and has already been placed in the company's 5G reference smartphone, but that's not due to be commercially available until 2020.
At the tail-end of 2017, EE ended its trial of 5G technology, delivering download speeds of 2.8Gbps using the 3.5GHz test spectrum and a Huawei base unit. Shortly before that, Samsung revealed it wants to release a 5G phone next year, meaning 5G could reach our phones earlier than previously predicted.
In the UK, the government has set out new proposals for forging full fibre broadband across the country with an eye on building the infrastructure for 5G. It is aiming to replace copper wire networks with a full fibre infrastructure, which it says is vital to underpin 5G coverage.
Currently, the UK is lagging behind other countries, such as Russia who trialled 5G coverage during the World Cup. Some matches were streamed live to viewers watching in virtual reality with superfast 5G streams.