What is 5G?
5G – or ‘fifth generation’ is the next generation of mobile internet connectivity.
5G is not a single technology. It accumulates a series of standards that guide how smart devices and mobile phones and should work. Some think of it as a growing ‘network of networks’ that covers a range of devices from phones to smart household appliances as part of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).
We have had 4G until now. Advancements in technology and adjustments in how people interact with tech – and more importantly, how they will interact with smart devices in the future – mean standards need updating.
5G promises wider coverage, faster speeds, greater capacity and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before.
How does 5G work?
Whenever we use a smartphone or other mobile device, the data is transmitted using radio waves. These radio waves are bands of different frequencies. Currently, existing bands are getting clogged due to the vast number of devices being used. This can result in a drop in service, especially when lots of people are attempting to access online services in the same area, at the same time.
5G overcomes this issue by using higher radio frequencies. These aren’t as busy and are able to transmit data faster.
Although higher frequencies are quicker, they do have a major downside – they are not as efficient at transmitting information over long distances. This is because radio waves are easily blocked by physical objects such as trees or buildings. To solve this issue, mobile networks will need to install lots of new transmitters. But unlike the enormous phone masts we are all used to, with 5G, the transmitters can be a lot smaller. Meaning they are likely to be hidden in street furniture or buildings.
It is anticipated that 5G tech will be able to support up to 1,000 more devices per metre than 4G.
We can already watch a film on a mobile phone, order pizza from our iPad or use voice control to play our Sonos music system. So, it’s fair to question if we actually need 5G. Surely, we are already able to do everything we want?
With present 4G capabilities, frequencies can become blocked and that’s when customers get frustrated with connection reliability and network speeds. Moreover, technology developments mean change is required if we are to maximise the benefits of advances in wearable fitness device, self-driving cars, virtual reality, smart home appliances and the ‘Internet of Things’, for example.
5G is considerably quicker than 4G. But how fast? Well, 4G usually provides download speeds of around 20 Mbps (megabits per second). Whereas 5G could offer speeds of 1 Gbps (gigabits per second), equivalent to 1,000 Mbps.
It could mean an HD film that currently takes half an hour to download, would be ready in under one minute with 5G. It is also predicted that speeds could be even faster – up to 10 Gbps – that’s fast enough to download that movie in under 10 seconds!
We will have to wait to see exactly what download speed 5G is capable of providing but one thing is clear - it will be rapid!
It is clear that 5G offers great advantages in terms of speed reliability and speed. But it also offers benefits in terms of coverage, capacity, and network latency.
The introduction of 5G should improve coverage – which is great news for those running a business in a rural area. Of course, coverage will still be determined by the network providers, but it will be much easier for them to install mobile masts in rural areas as they will be smaller than traditional masts.
With better capacity, mobile users will lose signal less frequently. It is suggested that a 5G mobile tower could manage a hundred times more devices than a 4G one. Mobile users should see an improvement in signal strength and availability as the strain on the towers is eased.
Network latency refers to the time it takes between giving an instruction to a device (pressing a button for example) and the transfer of information to the other end of the communications link.
Network latency is often recorded in milliseconds and you may feel that small delays are unimportant. But network latency has been a hot topic in the world of online gaming for years. In this instance, even the tiniest delay can have a big effect on when you press the button or pull the trigger to kick the ball past your opponent.
Latency is also seen as a critical issue outside of the world of gaming. In order to maximise the benefits offered by augmented reality (AR) virtual reality (VR) latency must be as low as possible. Otherwise, when using AR and VR and, there could be a significant disconnect between what the eyes are seeing and what the body is doing. This could lead to dizziness and frustration for users and at worst could result in real-life accidents when augmented and virtual technologies become common on our roads.
5G will reduce latency to a minimum, meaning we will experience significantly less delay when using devices. With 4G, latency is usually around 40-50 milliseconds and it is predicted that 5G will reduce this to a miniscule 1 millisecond.
As well as the benefits 5G will bring to our personal lives, 5G offers many exciting opportunities for businesses. It is hard to anticipate exactly how organisations will use the new 5G technology but here are just a few of the benefits we can expect to enjoy:
Enhance services for your customers
Regardless of the industry you work in, from healthcare to advertising, better mobile services mean considerable opportunities to improve the services you offer your customers.
Increasingly customers expect to be able to engage with you from mobile devices – from making appointments to checking order details. This expectation will only increase with the introduction of 5G, meaning that it is even more important for businesses to have a robust mobile strategy when providing services online.
New marketing opportunities
From online competitions to virtual reality. The list of innovative ways to market your business on mobile devices is endless.
It is predicted that we will see more use of HD video in marketing as users are able to watch videos more quickly.
5G will enable augmented and virtual reality applications to become part of everyday life, presenting many new innovative ways for businesses to market products and services.
Streamline efficiencies throughout your business
Mobile technology already gives companies the opportunity to increase productivity, improve systems, and make cost savings. However, some businesses may have been hesitant to move certain tasks online, particularly if worried about network speed or connection. Many of these challenges are solved with 5G, making it straightforward for businesses to move tasks online to deliver efficiencies.
With the opportunity to hold conference calls with customers or staff, video calls that are clearer and less jerky – communication with those in disparate locations will be easy.
Giving staff the flexibility to work from home or on the road is great for retention and can enhance motivation and productivity while reducing overheads. But often, unreliable internet connections make businesses reluctant to allow remote working. With 5G, these issues can be solved, making it simpler for staff to work from anywhere while keeping in touch the office.
Optimise office spaces
With CCTV monitoring streamed to mobile devices, smart heating systems and efficient lighting, 5G provides the opportunity to create smart spaces – in the office and at home. From reducing electricity and heating bills to enabling security 24/7, with 5G we can expect buildings to become more efficient, safe and comfortable.
Will we need new mobile phones with 5G?
Yes, we will all need to eventually upgrade our phones to benefit from all that 5G has to offer. However, it is wise to wait until more networks are offering 5G phones to take advantage of the best offers. Early adopters of 5G phones may also experience patchy service until 5G is fully established.
When is 5G coming to the UK?
It is already here - on the EE network! And following the UK launch in May of its 5G service, we predict other networks will be launching their own 5G services soon. That being said, it could take a couple of years before 5G coverage is available across the entire UK.
What should my business do to prepare for 5G?
For businesses in the UK, it may seem like there’s no need to consider 5G until we have widespread coverage here. But it makes sense to start planning now and put a 5G strategy in place.
Think about how 5G will affect your business and what opportunities it could bring. What will your customers expect to be able to do in the future? How will they want to interact with you from their mobile devices? How can you use mobile technologies to improve your marketing or your offering?
If you don’t have an in-house IT team, talk to an IT support provider who can discuss any 5G plans you may need to implement. It is also be a prudent to talk to your telecoms provider about their plans to deliver 5G in your area.