The future of mobile data: What is 5G and what is it promising?

  • TECH
  • Sunday, 25 Mar 2018

5G speeds are set to influence not only how fast we stream films on smartphones, but the connectivity of increasingly high-tech cars. Photo: Andrea Warnecke/dpa

4G mobile phone transmission seems to have only just arrived for most people and yet already all the talk is about the next generation, 5G. That's supposed to be ready for launch by 2020. But how noticeable an improvement will it really be? 

For starters, 5G offers an enormous increase in transmission bandwidth, theoretically 10 gigabits per second (GBit/s) – which is 10,000 megabits per second (Mbit/s). Put simply, imagine downloading an entire 1.25 GB film in one second. 

In comparison, 4G offers a maximum of around 300 Mbit/s and many smartphone users are lucky to get 50 Mbit/s. 

However, people shouldn't have exaggerated expectations for 5G data rates, especially in the initial phase. "10 GBit/s will come, but not everywhere and not for everyone," says Professor Slamowir Stanczak, head of the Wireless Communications and Networks Department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications in Germany.  

One reason for this is that the achievable rates within a radio cell will still have to be shared among all the users within that cell. 

For many applications what will be more important than bandwidth is signal delay or latency. 5G will shorten this delay by a factor of 40 when compared to 4G. 

"Currently the network operators mainly do their business with high data rates," Stanczak explains. "But the industry needs low latency, high reliability, high security and high availability." 

5G is said to be the solution for both data-hungry consumers and companies interested in real-time control of networked machines and vehicles.  

The new standard will offer "massive benefits for the Internet of Things," according to Phil Twist, communications manager of Nokia's Mobile Networks division. Compared to 4G, 5G "offers 1,000 times more capacity to network things." 

The Internet of Things – the networking of all sorts of items including personal wearables and household devices – will require 5G as will self-driving cars which need real-time communication. 

To achieve these higher data rates and shorter response times will require a major increase in the number of antennas, a denser network with more radio stations at shorter intervals and the use of higher frequencies, Stanczak says. Mobile networks will also have to be organized in a more decentralized manner. 

The new network needed for 5G will not appear overnight but will develop slowly. One reason is that the capabilities of 4G haven't yet been exhausted. "4G will remain the mainstream mobile network for the next five years," Twist predicts.  

The first islands of 5G coverage are likely to emerge from 2020 onwards for specific applications and then continue to grow. — dpa

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