5G up in the air
You might still be awe of that brand new 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution)
smartphone you purchased just last week. That is good news. But the bad
news is that a new technology called 5G is already on its way. It will
take another six years to reach full deployment, but tech companies
around the world are scrambling to develop the technology and arrive at
common standards. It will eventually be possible to run a wireless data
connection at an astounding 800Gbps - that's 100 times faster than
current 5G testing.
The fifth generation of mobile networks (hence 5G) promises to be
very exciting. (The first mobile networks appeared in the 1980s, GSM
followed in the 1990s, 3G arrived at the turn of the century, and LTE
began rolling out in 2010). Scientists are more excited about 5G because
it will be different - very different.
Quite apart from super fast mobile phones, 5G could lead to properly
connected smart cities, remote surgery, driverless cars and the
“Internet of Things” where all home appliances (microwaves, washing
machines, refrigerators, airconditoners etc) can 'talk' to each other.
The 5G network will be fast enough to deliver ultra-detailed 3D maps to
The fast, two-way connection will also enable technologies such as
fridges which connect to the internet and order shopping by themselves -
using internal scanners to work out how many cartons of milk are in
stock, then ordering when needed. Companies including China's Huawei are
already talking about using 5G to let driverless cars communicate with
each other and the infrastructure they pass.
The new network might be so fast it can download 800 films per
second, according to University of Surrey researchers. ‘Latency’ - that
annoying ‘lag’ when you wait for a network to respond - will drop to
1/1,000th of a second, imperceptible to humans. Telecom manufacturer
Ericsson predicts that 5G's latency will be around one millisecond -
unperceivable to a human and about 50 times faster than 4G. London Mayor
Boris Johnson has announced that 5G will be in most of Europe by 2020.
Coincidentally, by 2020 there may be 100 billion devices online - most
of them demanding high-speed data services such as video and advanced
gaming. Here in Sri Lanka, where 4G is already well established, we will
be able to see more innovative uses of 5G.
Researchers predict that the demand for mobile data may be 100 times
bigger within the next decade - and that the key to 5G will be a network
that judges what users need, and provides it using any available
resources from mobile masts to Wi-Fi hotspots. This 5G technology will
be all about the “harmonization of the radio spectrum”. To pave the way
for 5G the International Telecommunications Union is comprehensively
restructuring the parts of the radio network used to transmit data,
while allowing pre-existing communications, including 4G and 3G, to
Devices will be able to choose dynamically between which of three
still-to-be-determined bandwidths they use to avoid any of frequencies
from becoming overloaded. The aim is for the first of the frequency
bands to come into use around the year 2020, with the other two to
follow soon after.
In South Korea, which spearheaded work on 4G, Samsung hopes to launch
a temporary trial 5G network in time for 2018's Winter Olympic Games.
South Korea is “leading the issue”, claims Lee Sang-kug, deputy director
of ICT policy at Seoul’s future planning ministry. This year the
ministry announced plans to invest an initial $1.5bn in developing 5G
mobile standards, with a goal of trialling the technology by 2017 and a
commercial rollout by 2020.
The EU and South Korea have signed a deal to work together on 5G
development, while both have promised €700m and $1.5bn respectively in
funding for local 5G projects. In the UK, £70m of funding is going to
build a 5G research facility, known as the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC).
It is heartening to note that leading telecom and technology
companies are cooperating to deliver 5G and establish global standards.
And that in turn paves the way for potential new technologies which we
have not even imagined yet. It will be mostly about fast data though,
because your 3G or 4G phone is more than adequate for voice calls over
the normal phone network or through VOIP services such as Skype and
But the question remains whether we need all this speed. In fact, 4G
or even 3G is adequate for most people to browse the web and use their
apps on smartphones and tablets. No one is going to download 800 films
during the morning commute, even if that was possible. However, if such
features are enabled by default in electronic devices, consumers will
have no choice. But it will take several years for the technology to
become affordable for the majority of people.
It is only now that relatively affordable 4G handsets and other
devices are appearing in the market, around four years after 4G was
introduced. Judging by the same timescale, it will be around 2025-2026
when 5G devices will go mainstream.
In any case, we still cannot predict what kind of connected devices
will be invented or available by that time. Figuring out what uses 5G
will be put to is the equivalent of trying to predict the rise of the
iPhone five years before it launched. No one foresaw the arrival of the
iPhone and other smartphones or how the market would change in response
to these gadgets.
We are facing the same situation again: trying and imagine how the
mobile world will look 10 years from now and design a standard to fit
There are those who say that 5G is not even needed, if the problems
with the present 3G and 4G networks cannot be solved. Moreover, many
phone networks have not recovered their investments in 4G as consumers
stick to 3G usage and devices, which is good enough for most purposes.
However, there is a possibility that these spectrums could be phased out
eventually, leading to the widespread use of 5G. Technology will triumph
at the end of the day and we will have to live with yet another cellular
standard - albeit a superfast one.