The tech industry is currently abuzz with talk of 5G. Though it will admittedly be some time before it becomes fully available in Australia, interest in it the technology is majorly building.
In January, US company AT&T announced its plans to unroll 5G mobile service in as many as 12 American cities by the end of 2018. Other telcos have shared similar goals, including Telstra and Optus in Australia. The rise of 5G begins an exciting new era in the world of mobile connectivity, but what does it all mean? What exactly is 5G and how will it affect you? And when will 5G spread throughout Australia?
What is 5G?
Welcome to 5G, the fifth generation of network connectivity. With the appearance of every new generation, our mobile phones (and now our smartphones) have been able to do more and to do it faster.
The 1980s is when the use of mobile technology first started to appear. Analogue phones made their debut and the first generation networks, aka 1G, were being used. For the first time, people were able to make voice calls via mobile phones. The 1990s saw the introduction of 2G, when devices were now capable of sending short message signals (SMS). This was the dawn of text messaging and paved the way for the next, and possibly largest, change. 3G emerged in the late 90’s and early 2000s, providing faster data and basic Internet access. Finally, these mobile devices could do more than just make calls or send texts---they could connect to the web.
What most mobile users are familiar with today is 4G. From 2008 onward, this wireless generation brought about the super-fast Internet speeds we’ve now grown accustomed to, and lead to a variety of other practical applications, such as high-definition video streaming. 4G also has evolved to include versions with improved performance, including 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution).
In some ways, 4G was not a drastic shift from 3G. Its greatest contribution was speed, though basic capabilities have remained much the same. 4G has been the prevailing standard. Until now.
5G is coming. With so many devices in circulation, a real need for more data has arrived, along with connectivity that is fast and reliable. These demands have paved the way for 5G, the next generation of tech set to arrive on the scene within the next year or so.
How Does 5G Work? What is the difference between 4G and 5G?
In many ways, much of the available information about 5G is still speculative. At the moment, 5G doesn’t yet quite exist, so the precise ways in which it will work remain largely theoretical. Yet the move toward 5G is sweeping the globe, so it’s safe to say we’ll see a lot of advances arriving with haste.
5G, like 4G, will work using radio waves or radio frequency (RF) energy. However, unlike the low wavelengths used by 4G, 5G will work on a new band, using extremely high frequencies in the range of 30 GHz to 300 GHz. Because these super high frequencies are free from existing traffic, they can be used to meet the world’s expanding bandwidth demands. Highly directional, the upper frequencies can be used right next to other wireless signals without interruption or interference. All this means big opportunities for fast and accurate data.
Combined with the high level of directional control, 5G uses shorter wavelengths, which makes it able to use its energy more efficiently. Whereas 4G uses tall antennas that broadcast at wide, often unspecified angles, 5G will beam data with far greater accuracy. This means that antennas can be much smaller in size, however, there may be a lot more of them, since these waves don’t travel quite as far. One challenge for 5G technology is that ultra-high frequencies can be impeded by rain or humidity. To circumvent these concerns, It’s likely that networks may incorporate a scattered array of small antennas throughout a coverage area, helping to implement 5G at its most effective.
It isn’t only the speed of data that is an exciting element of 5G. The technology also offers much lower latency. This refers to the time between making a request on your device and the rate at which that request is fulfilled. Though latency on 4G is by no means slow, the differences with the arrival of 5G will be quite consequential. The shrinking lag time between issuing a command and having it take place could be revolutionary. On a personal level, this faster latency means good news for our video streaming or gaming activities, but it could also propel advancements such as driverless cars. In fact, with 5G it is expected that “communication lag will fall to one millisecond—faster than the speed at which humans perceive touch response as instantaneous.” This is pretty wild stuff.
How fast will 5G Internet be?
Without a doubt, 5G will be fast, but exactly how fast can we expect it to be? There is a range of estimations floating around. Generally, 5G is likely to be as much as 20x faster than 4G LTE, with optimal download speeds of around 20 GB/s. In basic terms, this means instantaneous loading of web pages, realistic quality Skype chats and the ability to download a full-length 4K film in less than a minute. With 5G, high-quality video content will finally match the exceptional streaming levels offered by cable TV. The wireless Internet speeds will, for the first time, be faster than those of cable broadband and possibly even fibre optic cable.
Recent 5G simulation tests at the Mobile World Congress have revealed the tip of the iceberg for what 5G might accomplish, speed-wise. Qualcomm’s simulations were based on existing conditions in the cities of Frankfurt and San Francisco.
The simulation in Frankfurt utilised a more basic network, 100 MHz on a 3.5GHz spectrum with an underlying gigabit-LTE network on 5 LTE spectrum bands. For a 4G user, the browsing speeds hovered around 56 mbps. For the 5G user? The rates leapt up to over 490 mbps, an approximately 7x quicker response rate. As for download speeds, most users in the simulation experienced an 8 mbps download speed on 4G LTE, and 100 mbps download speeds on 5G.
The San Francisco model worked with a network operating in 800 MHz in a 28 GHz mmWave spectrum, built on top of a gigabit-LTE network on four licensed LTE bands and License Assisted Access (LAA) bands. Whew---that’s a lot of technical jargon! But the key takeaway is this:
Browsing speeds grew from 71 mbps to 1.4 gbps, and download speeds skyrocketed up from 10 mbps to 186 mbps. In tests of video streaming, better quality was also reported.
These speed increases are definitely impressive, and some estimates place the jump at even greater heights, such as 50x faster than 4G!
More than just mobile: 5G & the Future
5G is going to bring about speedier Internet with greater volume potential, but experts say the consequences of its arrival go far beyond rapid-fire downloads and bufferless Netflix binging.
5G is likely to set off a whole new level of technology that will impact individual consumers, commercial enterprises, and even society in general.
Melissa Arnoldi, president of AT&T Technology and Operations said, “5G will change the way we live, work and enjoy entertainment. We’re moving quickly to begin deploying mobile 5G this year and start unlocking the future of connectivity for consumers and businesses. With faster speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more.”
The reduced network latency is one of the key features of 5G that will make it so transformative. As in the case with autonomous vehicles, the instantaneous transmission of information will enable split-second decision making. This could yield genuinely safe driverless cars, able to turn on a dime and react to external stimuli with cat-like reflexes.
This technology could also enable remote surgeries. With no lag time, surgeons could ostensibly be in a location far away from a patient, yet remotely performing procedures (via robotic arms) with expert precision.
Virtual reality will become the norm, particularly in the gaming world. Players from different sides of the globe can play in real-time, with their actions being relayed without delay. This will provide an extra level of reality that 4G cannot quite reach, and has given rise to the term “tactile internet.”
The 5G boom will also have an impact on the “Internet of Things,” or the appearance of the Internet in everyday objects that can connect with one another. We’re seeing---and will definitely see more of---things like a wireless thermostat, smart door knobs, smart refrigerators, wearable devices, and much more. Much of what 5G has the potential to create has not even been imagined yet.
And if you have a lot of devices, no problem. (It is believed that there will be over 20 billion Internet connected “things” by 2020). Even at home, 5G should be able to connect multiple devices to the Internet without causing any bandwidth issues. Get ready for a fully connected world!
Will 5G make data cheaper?
Will all this new technology come with a higher price tag? It’s hard to say for certain. The efficiency and speed of 5G may result in users requiring less data overall, but there are other associated costs that are hard to gauge at this time. Using the new high-spectrum bands, the mobile networks are likely to be able to accommodate many more customers, which could certainly account for reduced costs. While some sources say that 5G will bring about unlimited data for all, other opinions hold that 5G will cause data usage to skyrocket (which could bring with it potential price hikes). Only time will tell.
When will 5G be available?
5G is only just starting its rollout in some places, like the US. In fact, there is currently no 5G-ready device available, but evidence points to this arriving in the near future. At the end of 2017, the international wireless standards body, 3GPP, developed official standards for 5G new radio (NR). This means that manufacturers now have a standard they can work with for the production of hardware, chipsets, and devices. Even so, it seems that we won’t fully herald the entrance of 5G-primed devices until next year at least. Telstra announced plans to begin offering 5G in Australia by 2019, while Europe has been aiming for a 2020 release. Other telcos have shared similar intentions, leading some news outlets to declare “the race is on.” Telstra CEO Andrew Penn said, “2018 will be a big year for 5G.”
The International Telecommunications Union last year shared 13 specifications that networks would need to meet in order to be classified as 5G. These include:
20Gbps peak download rate
10Gbps peak upload rate
30bps/Hz peak spectral efficiency downlink
15bps/Hz peak spectral efficiency uplink
100Mbps user experienced download rate
50Mbps user experienced upload rate
So even as the technology rolls out, it might be awhile before it is adopted by all major networks.
Australia is definitely not lagging behind when it comes to 5G experimentation. Telstra COO Robyn Denholm reported, “Telstra has already conducted Australia’s first 5G field trial and the world’s first 5G outdoor data call over 26GHz ‘mmWave’ radiofrequency spectrum. From our new 5G Innovation Centre we will be completing a number of 5G firsts in 2018 to ensure Australia remains at the forefront of mobile technology.”
The centre will be opening on the Gold Coast just ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. During the event, Telstra plans to showcase some of the growth in 5G technology. Later in the year, the Gold Coast will also be the location of a 3GPP meeting, discussing the newest global standards for 5G technology. Australia is definitely holding its own in 5G advances.
Will 5G be available in regional areas?
Regional Australians may be wondering if 5G will be available in their service area. Until 5G is officially introduced, the details will be uncertain. However, we can look to the current regional 4G availability to give us a clue as to its reach. 5G’s directional capabilities will also perhaps enable better connectivity overall.
How do you think that 5G technology will change the world?