The fifth generation of wireless communication has finally arrived in the UK. Through its sky-high data rates, near-zero latency, and ultra-reliability, 5G is set to hammer out telecoms weaknesses and create opportunities that, until recently, we could only dream of.
And even though it’s still in its infancy—5G’s got a long way to go—anyone who manages to get their hands on it is blown away. Users take to social media to post snapshots of their lightning-quick download speeds; and companies like Vodafone use it to rugby tackle someone from 100 miles away; there’s no doubt it’s going to change everything we know about connectivity.
But with any groundbreaking new technology comes rumours and misinformation; some over-hyping how fast we’ll feel the changes 5G brings, and others downplaying its potential.
With our 5G Project set to save both money and lives in the healthcare industry, we’ve got a significant stake in the 5G sphere—it’s important to us that the right information is out there. So I’ve addressed some of the biggest 5G myths of today.
Is there a race to 5G?
In short: yes, there’s absolutely a race, and it’s not going to end anytime soon. It began with vendors who are selling their equipment and nodes to operators, and it’s continuing with operators sprinting to rollout their networks ahead of the competition.
These first iterations of 5G networks are still relying on 4G infrastructures to get them going; no doubt that round two will be the race for standalone 5G networks, once the technology is available.
And even after that, we’ll see a race to capitalise on those networks and unlock what 5G is really capable of. Which leads to our next question…
Is 5G the answer to all our Internet needs?
It’s hard to pinpoint any one set of needs in telecoms—both business and end-user needs tend to evolve along with technology. Take the 4G hype, for example. The mere ability to watch a movie online without waiting to buffer was seen as magical. Now, it’s an expected standard; in fact, a drop from 4G to 3G today brings on mild panic. ‘What do you mean I can’t download Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in six minutes?!’
Eventually, 5G will bring us enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) with huge data rates; ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC) that’ll enable high-stakes, mission-critical services; and massive Internet of Things (MIoT), which will target businesses that rely on cost and power efficiency.
So, if a patient’s treatment requires the expertise of an off-site surgeon, they’ll be able to perform the operation remotely using super-precise haptic technology. Or if a user needs seamless, reliable, ultra-high definition video, they’re sorted; eMBB promises data rates of up to 10Gb per second, over a latency of about 4 milliseconds.
On the other hand, if that same user wants high dynamic range (HDR) streaming, with a resolution of 4K at 120 frames per second, then there might be the odd pause to buffer the stream.
Either way, we can’t expect these results with the initial rollouts while the 5G networks still rely on legacy 4G infrastructure. But the bottom line is: 5G will easily surpass the needs of today’s end-users and contemporary industries, while also opening up fresh avenues of thought and tech.
Is 5G ready to go now?
5G rollouts are gaining momentum worldwide, but as I mentioned, these deployments are still rough and unrefined. 5G tech itself isn’t even fully developed yet, and won’t be until operators set up their stand-alone 5G networks and shift away from 4G infrastructure.
There’s also the matter of coverage. 5G mobile broadband relies on millimeter wave (MM), a frequency spectrum with very high data rates, but low distance coverage. So to keep up with the connectivity 5G offers and counteract MM’s low distance, there needs to be a dense deployment of small cells—base stations with small coverage areas. And deploying these across the country is going to be a huge logistics challenge for operators.
So, yes: lucky users that get their hands on 5G today can enjoy superfast download speeds, and operators can experiment with cross-country rugby simulations; but at some point in the next 2 to 5 years, 5G will reach its full potential. And that’s when we’ll all start seeing the comforts and capabilities promised by the world’s most powerful connectivity.
Recruited to head up our 5G Project, Dr Arslan Usman is an internationally-published Wireless Communications PhD. He’s a key member of the team, bringing academic expertise, hands-on lab experience, and one of the sharpest minds in the game. He’s also a super slick wildlife photographer. Learn more about him in our podcast.