What is 5G?When will it arrive?
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You might have heard the term 5G being bandied about more lately and be wondering what it is and what it means for you.
But wonder no more. In this article we cover everything you need to know about 5G, from what it is, to how it works, when it will arrive and why you should care.
What is 5G?
5G is short for ‘fifth generation mobile networks’. . And that’s literally what it is – the fifth generation of mobile networks (with a mobile network being what you use to call, text and – when not connected to a Wi-Fi network – get online). But it’s set to be far faster than previous generations, and unlike 4G it could open up whole new use cases for mobile data, which we’ll get to below.
A little historical background demonstrates the context of 5G. First-generation networks were introduced back in the 1980s – they were analogue and only carried voice. In the ‘90s, 2G (or second generation) phones launched and they were digital, introducing new features like text messages and picture messages. The early noughties ushered in 3G (third generation) which started to include video calling and mobile data. Ten years later we saw 4G, and these networks and phones were designed to support mobile internet and higher speeds for activities like video streaming and gaming.
Now, networks are changing again and 5G is set to land soon.
When will it arrive?
How soon is soon? Some countries such as South Korea, China, Japan and the US are claiming they will launch 5G networks later this year (2018) or early next. However, in the UK rollout isn’t set to begin until 2020, according to the government’s 5G strategy and statements from network operators.
Even then, that’s just when networks will start to roll out 5G, so we might not see widespread 5G coverage in the UK until 2022 or later.
But there’s a chance some networks will be slightly ahead of the game here, as for example EE said in February 2018 that 5G was just 18 months away, meaning a live UK network could exist from late 2019.
What is the current situation in the UK?
Because the amount of spectrum available is finite, it has to be allocated. Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has begun a 5G spectrum auction to help cope with demand.
This auction will see 40MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz band and 150MHz of spectrum in the 3.4GHz band auctioned off, with the former being useable now and the latter being earmarked for 5G use.
The auction is likely to be completed in or around April 2018, at which point the UK’s mobile networks will be much better equipped for 5G.
However, even with this additional spectrum the UK’s mobile networks will probably want more, and Ofcom plans to address this with a subsequent auction of spectrum in the 3.6GHz-3.8GHz and 700MHz bands.
But that’s just one aspect of preparing for 5G in the UK, as relevant technologies also need to be developed and trialled, which is happening now.
For example, O2 will run a trial at The O2 arena and visitors will be able to try out 5G and see demos of virtual reality, augmented reality and live streaming applications. Another trial is running in Bristol to demonstrate futuristic media services such as personalised augmented reality city tours.
EE has also carried out a 5G trial in its labs, achieving consistent download speeds of 2.8Gbps.
The findings of these experiments and others will be used to ensure networks are 5G-ready for 2020.
Of course, many developments will also happen outside the UK, and these will be vital too. For example, China’s Huawei is driving many 5G developments.