There’s a lot of buzz right now about 5G, the wireless technology that’ll be used by mobile networks in the coming years to keep us and our devices connected. This article will look at what 5G is, and how everything it offers will benefit mobile device users.
Why people are so interested in 5G is because it isn’t a small upgrade over 4G: it’s a huge leap forward. It’s far more advanced than 4G ever was, it addresses many of 4G’s technical limitations, and it’s been developed with the future in mind.
In brief, 5G:
- Is faster than 4G
- Has lower latency
- Can support many more mobile devices per square metre
- Extends device battery life and uses less base station power to transmit
- Uses existing networks as a base
Big at MWC19
The tech was a big talking point at the recent Mobile World Congress, from network providers keen to build networks with it, to handset makers with new phones on the horizon that can take advantage of it.
Even South Africa is getting in on the action, as local wireless comms provider Rain announced the launch of the first commercial 5G network in South Africa at the show. Other mobile network providers are sure to follow suit with their own 5G networks in the coming months and years.
5G networks are a key growth enabler, allowing more people than ever to communicate with mobile devices, and accommodating even the strongest user number growth trends. It’s the kind of tech that powers a country’s future, in other words.
What does 5G mean for you?
To clearly communicate 5G’s advances and how they will benefit you, the mobile device user, we will break down each of the five points made above.
Probably the most exciting aspect of 5G networks for regular people is just how much faster it is – something that will be immediately noticeable as we surf the internet and download files faster.
Wikipedia says 5G’s “Maximum achievable data rate is 20Gb/s”, but this applies to base stations only; for the end-user, the maximum speed they can expect from 5G is 1Gb/s – that’s the full speed of the network port on modern day laptops and desktop PCs. That’s pretty quick.
Whether local mobile network providers will make mobile data cheap enough that we can enjoy these new speeds without bankrupting ourselves, on the other hand, remains to be seen.
This particular feature is the one that will likely please network providers more than end users, but it’s still pretty cool: for a network to qualify as being 5G, it must support a minimum of one million devices per square kilometre. 4G by comparison could only support up to 2000 devices in the same area.
This is significant as it means there’s plenty of room for growth when it comes to the number of users on a 5G network, and it will alleviate pressure on infrastructure from the network providers’ perspective.
It’s also important because there are more mobile devices than people on the planet right now, and that number is only going to grow. Being able to accommodate every device that connects is important, and that’s 5G’s job.
The 5G specification calls for a maximum latency per user of 4ms, down from the 20ms latency of 4G.
For end users, this means mobile apps that appear to be faster and more responsive – critical for certain business applications and vital for an overall positive user experience of mobile applications.
This, coupled with the imminent arrival of local Azure, AWS, and other datacentres, means a pleasant and efficient business application user experience which could lead to more widespread adoption, and new efficiencies within organisations that use them.
In other words, don’t be afraid to investigate and use mobile business applications for your own organisation – supported by faster 5G networks, they could be the game-changer you’ve been looking for.
Better battery life
This one’s a side effect of one of 5G’s fundamental features: while the technology is about as power-hungry as 4G, it can also go into a “sleep” state when no there are no active users.
“This happens much more frequently than one might think,” says Emil Björnson, an associate professor at Linköping University, in Sweden, who has devoted a portion of his current research to addressing 5G’s power usage. “4G networks need to transmit a lot of control signals even when no one is listening—for example, at night.”
A side-effect of this improved power usage over 4G means 5G phones will be use power for 5G communications only when it’s needed and enter a sleep state when it isn’t. This is how more time will be squeezed out of 5G phones’ batteries.
Goodbye, daily charging – hello, once-a-week charging.
That may not be the immediate reality, though, but we can hope it happens some day. Battery technology certainly isn’t getting much better.
Uses existing networks as a base
4G networks won’t go away, as the 5G rollout will still use parts of those networks. As Wikipedia notes, “New 5G wireless devices also have 4G LTE capability, as the new networks use 4G for initially establishing the connection with the cell, as well as in locations where 5G access is not available.”
For end users, this means a fairly fast rollout of 5G capabilities as networks don’t need to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch. This is partly why Rain was able to roll out its own 5G network so quickly.
That, and it’s a data-only provider, meaning it doesn’t have to worry about carrying voice data too, which complicates the deployment.
And as 5G networking makes use of much higher radio frequencies, which can’t travel as far as low-frequency signals, it requires more base stations for full coverage. This is part of the reason 5G piggybacks off of existing network infrastructure.
Is this the hype machine again?
Go online and look up articles on 5G, and you’ll notice that some sites are punting it as being “just around the corner”. But in reality, it probably won’t have an impact on the life of average mobile device users for a year or more.
Firstly, the networks themselves need to be completed and activated, and so far Rain is the only 5G network that’s active in South Africa, and it’s data-only (i.e. it doesn’t carry voice).
Secondly, for regular people to get the benefits of 5G, there need to be more handsets on the market at a wide spectrum of price points. Right now, the only 5G-capable handsets are the top-tier models from big-name manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Nokia, Huawei, and others.
This will change over time, of course, but for right now 5G handsets are definitely not for everyone. So to some degree, the answer to this question is “Yes”.
But keep an eye out anyway, things may change very quickly as the global telecoms industry moves forward with this new tech’s adoption.