5G: The fifth generation of mobile internet is just around the corner

What is 5G? How’s it going to affect the UK? When will we see it? Find out everything you need to know in this quick guide!

5G’s been in the news a lot recently; Huawei’s made sure of that. But how much do you actually know about what 5G means? When is 5G coming? Will it really affect you? How much is it going to cost? Learn the answers in this simple guide.

Let’s get the big question out of the way first … What the heck is 5G?

For starters, 5G will be a more efficient use of the radio spectrum, paired with a more advanced network design.

It’ll add more radio spectrum at higher frequencies so that far more devices can access the mobile internet at once. So not only will it use spectrum in the LTE frequency range of 600MHz to 6GHz (which already exists), but it’ll use millimetre wave bands of 24-86GHz too.

To do that, new wireless base stations will be constructed close to major cities and we could see multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) boxes go up on lampposts and inner-city buildings too.

What does that actually mean?!

The long and short of it is that 5G users can expect wider coverage with more stable connections, lower delay times and improved download and upload speeds.

It’s estimated that download speeds could increase by up to 100 times faster than the sort of rates we expect right now. So that’d be speeds up to 10Gbps over mobile data.

Flipping fast, in other words.

And though these sorts of speeds obviously haven’t been rolled out and put to the test by the hundreds of thousands of devices that would be connected to 5G in reality, Qualcomm still reckons consumers should be able to expect network speeds up to 20 times faster.

(Qualcomm’s the company making 5G microchips for smartphones, by the way.)

You’d notice it most on your phone when you make glitch-free video calls or download films in an instant. (Seriously, you could download an HD movie in about 25 seconds!) Or, if you’re a gamer, when there’s virtually no delay between pressing your controller and something happening onscreen.

Lots of industries will see the benefits

The technology behind 5G will enable huge progression in new product development and create more efficiency for other techs too. All being well, 5G will create a more stable link between new technologies and the internet.

I think we’re going to see some stuff that we’d never imagined possible before.

Like multiple drones working together to monitor traffic, to complete fire assessments and to even carry out search and rescue missions. If they’re able to communicate wirelessly with one another and the 5G base stations too, why shouldn’t they?!

Just imagine the difference we could see in driverless cars too.

If autonomous vehicles have a means to read live map and traffic data and communicate amongst themselves, surely we’re going to see more of them on the roads? The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Gimme! When and how can I get it?

Hold your horses, friend. While it’s set to start being tested in some cities and pilot locations this summer, no-one’s given a firm date for the 5G switch-on yet. Four of the major mobile networks – Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three – have all confirmed they’ll be trialling it in the UK in 2019 though.

But even after it’s gone live, you’ll need to take a few steps to start benefiting from 5G.

See, your 4G phone isn’t built for a 5G connection.

And there aren’t any 5G compatible phones on the market yet. Qualcomm are making special modem chips that are able to pick up 5G signals, but until that’s done we can’t expect to surf on 5G.

Probably for the best though; remember when 4G smart phones came out before the infrastructure was ready? The service was patchy and consumers were peed off.

Don’t think the manufacturers will be making the same mistake this time. 5G compatible handsets will probably start coming to market towards the end of this year and should be able to switch from 4G to 5G without batting an eyelid.

Price is a bit of a grey area right now too.

No-one really seems to know how much it’ll cost you to add 5G into your contract yet. One American provider has said they’ll charge around $10 more per month, but what the cost will be to UK consumers is anyone’s guess.

Is 5G going to solve the “not-spot” problem?

Our need for more and more data sometimes leads to “not-spots” caused by congested spectrum bands and service breakdowns. The good news is that 5G is better set up to handle higher numbers of devices at any one time.

Can you sense the but coming? Here goes.

The higher-frequency bands might have a whole lot more capacity but their wavelengths are shorter so their range is lower too. So physical objects – like a lot of the materials used to build modern office buildings – will still be able to block 5G.

The lower range of the high-frequency bands also means that, for now, rural areas aren’t going to see the benefit either. 5G will be rolled out as an urban service solely for heavily populated areas.

Do we really need a faster network?

Well, no, not really. Smartphones work pretty well as they are, right? But as soon as 5G becomes the norm, I imagine we’ll all find it rather difficult to go back.

It’s not all about consumers’ download speeds though.

Network carriers will save money otherwise spent on maintaining ageing infrastructure and should be able to compete with broadband providers.

And in the long term, the vast amounts of high-speed-transferrable data will quite possibly turn laughable pipe dream inventions into realities. Whatever happens, it’s going to be exciting.

Until then, if you’re frustrated by a lack of mobile signal inside your office building, check out our simple fixes in this short blog.

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