Superfast “fifth generation 5G” mobile internet could be launched as early as next year in some countries, promising download speeds 10 to 20 times faster than we have now.
But what difference will it really make to our lives? Will we need new phones? And will it solve the “notspot” issue for people in remote areas?
In the first of a five-part series examining the impact 5G could have around the world, Technology of Business tackles the basic questions.
What is 5G exactly?
It’s the next – fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity promising much faster data download and upload speeds, wider coverage and more stable connections.
It’s all about making better use of the radio spectrum and enabling far more devices to access the mobile internet at the same time.
What will it enable us to do?
“Whatever we do now with our smartphones we’ll be able to do faster and better,” says Ian Fogg from OpenSignal, a mobile data analytics company.
“Think of smart glasses featuring augmented reality, mobile virtual reality, much higher quality video, the internet of things making cities smarter.
“But what’s really exciting is all the new services that will be built that we can’t foresee.”
Imagine swarms of drones co-operating to carry out search and rescue missions, fire assessments and traffic monitoring, all communicating wirelessly with each other and ground base stations over 5G networks.
Similarly, many think 5G will be crucial for autonomous vehicles to communicate with each other and read live map and traffic data.
More prosaically, mobile gamers should notice less delay – or latency – when pressing a button on a controller and seeing the effect on screen. Mobile videos should be near instantaneous and glitch-free. Video calls should become clearer and less jerky. Wearable fitness devices could monitor your health in real time, alerting doctors as soon as any emergency arises.
How does it work?
There are a number of new technologies likely to be applied – but standards haven’t been hammered out yet for all 5G protocols. Higher-frequency bands – 3.5GHz (gigahertz) to 26GHz and beyond – have a lot of capacity but their shorter wavelengths mean their range is lower – they’re more easily blocked by physical objects.