5G is officially launching in the UK
After years of anticipation, 5G has finally been launched in the UK. BT’s EE has provided the UK with its first ever 5G network. The service is initially limited to six UK cities, including Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and London.
As it stands, EE’s lowest-priced deal costs £54 per month, in addition to a one-off fee of £170 for a 5G-compatible handset. However, this deal only buys you 10GB per month, which you’d likely burn through quite quickly, especially if downloading or streaming media.
For this reason, many will be choosing to hold off on EE’s 5G offering, instead waiting to see how the landscape will be affected when the company’s rivals enter the ring. This isn’t expected to take too long; Vodafone is launching its own 5G service in around five weeks’ time, with O2 expected to follow suit shortly after. It is hoped that this increase in supply will lower prices, whilst also widening coverage as other providers may choose to roll out their networks in other cities as well.
Whilst already only available in a select number of locations, it is expected that 5G coverage will be quite patchy, at least in the short-term, sometimes only offering outdoor connectivity and sometimes none at all, defaulting users back to a slower 4G signal.
Once it overcomes some initial teething problems, many experts are predicting that 5G will finally solidify mobile’s status as a “general purpose technology”, akin to electricity and cars.
How fast is 5G?
Ofcom has suggested that, in time, 5G could offer speeds of 20GB per second; that’s fast enough to download an HD 4K movie in less time than it takes to read its description. Unfortunately, however, this is not yet the reality; the fibre lines that EE is using to link each 5G site to its network currently have a total capacity of 10 GB per second, and that has to be shared around. EE has suggested that, on average, users will achieve download speeds of about 150-200MB per second, maybe hitting 1GB at quiet times. For comparison, EE’s 4G network typically provides speeds of around 30MB per second, so this is still considerably faster than users will be used to.
Is speed the only benefit of 5G?
Aside from the obvious benefit of increased speed, 5G will also allow mobile networks to provide more connections at once. In theory, 5G will be able to support more than a million devices per square kilometre, compared to 4G’s maximum support capability of around 60,000 devices per square kilometre.
In order to facilitate this, hundreds of antennas will need to be placed all over the country, from lampposts to bus stops, in addition to even more of the rooftop masts that we’re used to seeing. These antennas and devices will, in turn, support hundreds of thousands of data-capturing sensors, allowing authorities and businesses alike to gain deeper insights into consumer behaviour and thus provide the public with “smarter” services.
This means that, whilst 4G technology made it possible to control internet-connected devices from afar, 5G should enable a multitude of machine-to-machine communications, allowing decisions to be made for people, as well as by them.
What other benefits might 5G provide?
5G will have greater capacity than its 4G predecessor, allowing it to cope better with many high-demand applications at once, such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices, connected cars and high-quality video conferencing.
Increased capacity means that 5G networks are expected to be “ultra-reliable”, meaning no lost connectivity and allowing for use in critical cases, such as logistics, emergency services and so on.
“Network-slicing” is set to become a huge buzz-phrase in the age of 5G. Network-slicing allows operators to tailor 5G contracts to different types of clients by dividing their network into a variety of “virtual” slices. Each slice is isolated from the others and can be adjusted to guarantee different download speeds, latencies and bandwidth. This means that connectivity won’t be consumed on a first-come-first-served basis; with network-slicing, it will be possible for an organisation to, essentially, own its own 5G network, set up to cater for precise organisational requirements. This allows for data to be assigned more intelligently, assigning only the resources necessary for each use/application.
For example, providers could create tailored networks for specific sectors, such as the health sector, in order to reserve capacity for those users and devices which need it most. This would mean, as an example, that the emergency services could be guaranteed that their 5G-based communications would not be disrupted by surges in usage from the general public’s video-streaming, online-gaming and so on.
How can these benefits apply to organisations?
The increased speed and reliability of 5G could help organisations to work more quickly and efficiently, lowering costs and increasing revenue.
In the long-term, 5G will further facilitate the shift from a hardware-based network environment to a software-based one, bringing about lower overheads for businesses.
Although remote-working has been a hot topic for some time, it hasn’t quite taken off to the extent that many would have anticipated. Whilst this is partly as a result of business cultures, it could also be attributed to technological downfalls. Conference calls, for example, can still prove to be quite stilted and awkward. 5G could facilitate the widespread usage of meeting resources such as augmented and virtual reality, making remote meetings feel like you’re in the same room.
The wide range of augmented and virtual reality applications that are expected to be supported by 5G could be applied in ways that are set to revolutionise a number of industries, including retail, property, entertainment, gaming, manufacturing and tourism.
With the increasing prevalence of IoT devices, further enhanced by 5G connectivity, “smart buildings” will be able to utilise small radio sensors to monitor occupancy, lighting, temperature and so on. This will allow organisations to operate in more flexible, efficient and cheaper premises. As the use of the Internet of Things continues to rise, these “smart buildings” could even extend to “smart cities”, as local governments employ 5G networks to monitor and streamline public transport, implement “smart” traffic lights and so forth.
Is this the beginning of the end for Wi-Fi?
When 5G is fully developed and rolled out, businesses and individuals alike will have constant access to a fast, reliable internet connection. In many ways, this will be like having an extremely good Wi-Fi hotspot covering the entire developed world. Many are beginning to question whether or not this could spell the beginning of the end for Wi-Fi, as it becomes comparatively inflexible, at an unnecessary extra cost, and ultimately redundant in light of superior technology.
4C Strategies – Independent Network Consultants
Whilst 5G technology is still very much in the early stages in the UK, the time to start planning for it is now. 4C Strategies is a team of independent network consultants with over 20 years’ experience in a number of industry sectors. To find out more about how your organisation can plan for the 5G age and reap the benefits of the huge advancements in technology that it is expected to facilitate, contact 4C Strategies on 01858 438938, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.