What does 5G mean for consumers?

Fifth Generation Wireless (5G) is set to be rolled out by the end of the decade and wireless carriers around the world are preparing for the era of communication that will see speeds 10 to 100 times faster than currently available. 5G promises to transform the way we communicate with each other and with our devices.

What is 5G?

Different countries have developed opinions of what 5G means, but as of yet, there is no global definition. The International Telecommunication Union allows carriers to call any level of connectivity 4G, as long as it offers a “substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities” over 3G. It could be speculated that 5G will simply be anything that performs significantly better than 4G.

What does 5G mean for consumers?

The result of 5G should be ultra-low latency connections and average speeds that are up to 50 times faster than the fastest 4G LTE deployments available in the current market.

Industry views vary as to whether the technological advantages of 5G will serve as the catalyst for the introduction of innovative data devices and services or whether they will simply provide capacity relief for heavily loaded networks.

5G will not only enable faster connections, but will provide improved bandwidth (the amount of devices and data that can be handled at once) too. 5G benefits will spread further than just smartphones. The improved technology will cover the Internet of Things and will act as a catalyst for a wide range of new consumer and enterprise experiences, including both data intensive and energy efficient applications: high definition 4K-8K video, self-driving cars and advanced Virtual Reality.

5G IoT

How does 5G work?

One of the most promising methods of delivering 5G wireless is a combination of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) and carrier aggregation. MIMO moderates traffic to ensure an efficient flow of data, while carrier aggregation combines several streams of data between endpoints: servers and mobile devices.

The large coverage area of 5G is made possible through a beamforming technique, in which the wireless routers ignore inefficient paths and deliberately neglect to record them in the routing table.

In addition, 5G is likely to utilise more base stations, including macro-sites and smaller stations implementing a range of technologies, to ensure prime coverage.

When will 5G be available?

Radio communications experts from the 193 member countries of the United Nations will be revealing the technical requirements later this year, but industry professionals cannot agree on a time frame for the networks’ availability.

The natural process of network development would suggest 5G will arrive in 2021. However, the South Korean government has invested $1.5bn in upgrades to produce a trial network in 2017, in hope that the rest of South Korea will be connected to 5G by 2020. Karl Bode, a technology writer, suggests 5G will not be available in the United States until 2018 at the earliest, or perhaps not until the 2020 Olympics.

Higher frequencies and faster speeds will require more antennas and transmitters being built and upgraded, which inevitably takes time.

As well as this, mobile operators in charge of rolling out 5G plans are still governed by economics: the more users and demand in a particular area, the more likely 5G speeds will arrive swiftly. However ultimately, one of the main aims of 5G is to provide blanket coverage that stays with you and does not drop out as you move - in theory, meaning fewer dead spots, no matter where you are in the world.

When the 5G network becomes universally available, it will initiate the superfast smartphone age - any kind of download or streaming task will start instantly and buffering will be non-existent. Juniper Research forecasts a healthy adoption of 5G services, with revenues set to exceed $65 billion by 2025. It might be a few years away, but the potential improvements a 5G network can provide are enough to get tech-savvy consumers very excited.

- Hanne @Uros