June 14, 2019
What is 5G?
5G is the hotly anticipated fifth generation of high speed mobile network technology. 5G networks use OFDM (a method of encoding digital data on multiple carrier frequencies) to send data through radio waves. This is similar to the encoding that 4G uses, but much of the 5G network will travel over super-high-frequency airwaves, bringing more bandwidth and lower latency.
The first waves of rollout have begun in earnest worldwide and 5G champions are heralding it as a game changer that will make the world more connected, with its range of benefits over 4G allowing for more Internet of Things (IoT) devices with full mobile connectivity – think cars, robots, cities, etc. Its critics, on the other hand, say its overhyped – representing a small step forward rather than a giant leap – and will be incredibly expensive to deploy. On top of this, there has been much controversy over 5G’s implementation to date and the potential security implications for national infrastructure, with particular suspicion being cast on Huawei and their fabled ‘back door’.
What are the key differences between 4G and 5G?
High speed connections are the headline benefit of 5G
- Early stages will increase speed by 10 times compared to 4G and potentially up to 100 times faster once fully established.
- The speed at which you can download a full HD film will decrease from over 7 minutes with 4G to between 4 and 40 seconds with 5G.
Latency between devices and servers reduced to virtually zero
- Less delay and beating the buffering icon! Users will be able to begin playing streamed content almost instantaneously.
- 5G will aim to bring down 4G’s latency figure (currently 50 milliseconds) to 1 millisecond, 50 times better than 4G.
- This will also provide critical infrastructure for those applications which require rapid responsiveness and seamless communication between networks and devices, such as driverless cars and robotic surgeries.
Greater bandwidth equalling a more reliable service
- A larger network availability to support a whole new range of services, enabling the IoT to advance at a quicker pace.
- The benefits of using 5G at home instead of cable is that more devices can be connected (including smart home devices) to the network without suffering from slower responses resulting from cluttered bandwidths.
- 5G will build upon parts of 4G’s network (unlike the transition from 3G to 4G) and will use higher radio frequency wavelengths which are less crowded.
- However higher frequency bands have shorter wavelengths, which means that they cannot carry data as far and are more susceptible to being blocked by physical objects. Therefore, 5G will rely upon MIMO (multiple in and multiple out) antennae to increase transmissions as well as clusters of smaller omnipresent masts as opposed to the traditional stand-alone masts. In other words, we’ll need to install miniature cell towers on buildings, inside homes, and wherever we need 5G connectivity. Of course, all this will come at a cost.
How compatible is 5G with old devices?
As a general rule, it will be necessary to purchase a 5G-capable device to access 5G
- Early adopters face steep purchase prices – the Samsung and Huawei foldable models are launching at US$2,000+ and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is currently available for order at US$1,300. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G currently looks set to be the most affordable offering at US$680.
- Only the Motorola Moto Z3, is currently upgradeable, enabling users to connect to the 5G Ultra Wideband network by attaching an additional accessory, the 5G moto mod, costing US$199.99.
- Apple have been typically secretive, but speculation indicates 2020 will be the earliest we see a 5G iPhone.
When is 5G coming?
Most major US and UK mobile network operators are rolling out 5G during the course of 2019. However, initial availability is limited to major cities. Widespread rollout is unlikely before 2020.
|Network Operator||Initial Rollout||Initial Coverage|
|Sprint||May 2019||Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, Washington, DC|
|T-Mobile||H2 2019||30 cities including Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Las Vegas|
|AT&T||By the end of 2019||21 major cities|
|Verizon||By the end of 2019||30 US cities|
|EE||2019||London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol|
|Vodafone||By the end of 2019||Birkenhead, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Guildford, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton|
|O2||2019||Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London|
|www.pocket-lint.com / www.digitaltrends.com / about.att.com / ee.co.uk / 5g.co.uk|
Who has got the UK spectrum?
- The first UK 5G spectrum auction was in April 2018 with EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three all winning some spectrum and spending almost £1.4bn.
- Two bands of spectrum were auctioned: O2 took all 40Mhz of the 2.3Ghz spectrum available and the 150Mhz of the 3.4Ghz spectrum available was split as follows: O2 took 40Mhz; Vodafone took 50Mhz; EE took 40Mhz; and Three took 20Mhz.
- The 2.3Ghz spectrum that O2 acquired is intended to be used to increase existing network capacity (and was available for use immediately).
- The 3.4Ghz spectrum acquired by all four operators will be used for the rollout of 5G networks, subject to geographical location and the need for a compatible mobile device.
- Although O2 won the most spectrum in April, in total, EE still owns the largest amount with Vodafone second and O2 third. Three holds the least total spectrum, but thanks to its acquisition of UK Broadband, it holds the highest proportion of 3.4Ghz spectrum which is suited to a 5G network.
- The amount of spectrum auctioned in April 2018 is inadequate to meet the requirements of a 5G network. Ofcom has plans to auction more spectrum in varying bands, of most interest will be the 120MHz of 3.6Ghz – 3.8Ghz bands. These auctions are likely to take place in 2020.