The hype about 5G is justified

Donald Trump says, “the race to 5G is a race that America must win”.

His views on the importance of 5G are shared by many other world leaders, including Prime Minister Johnson and President Xi Jinping. Countries the world over are furiously competing to build out their 5G capabilities, conscious that advancements could revolutionise industries, services, infrastructure and entire economies.

The “G” in 5G stands for ‘generation’, and recent generations have been defined by the capabilities that their mobile tech allowed. 2G’s launch in 1991 allowed for voice transmission and lit the fuse that blew up the mobile phone market. 3G allowed rich content to be shared and 4G supported data download speeds that enabled apps to flourish. Now 5G is poised to change the world in even more paradigm-shifting ways.

The hype is justified

The first thing to note is that 5G is quick. Really quick. At launch, it’s expected that 5G connections will be 5X quicker than the best 4G networks but, as the tech improves and the infrastructure embeds and grows, downloads speeds could be up to 100X faster. And speed isn’t the only improvement.

Sure, 5G lets you download a film in seconds, but connections will be robust as dropout rates fall and network range improves. 5G latency – how long it takes to start a connection – is going to be below the 1-millisecond mark. If you remember the beeps and whistles of dial-up, 5G is the opposite. Connections are instant and constant, which brings technologies such as autonomous vehicles and factories, virtual reality and the Internet Of Things closer to reality.

5G can also handle more devices without overloading or reducing bandwidth. This will be especially important given that more items – from trainers to toothbrushes, and doorbells to dog bowls – move online, joining the Internet of Things. As billions of items pull data, a robust network is required to keep them connected. 5G’s infrastructure, designed to rely on networks of small cells that transmit data over much shorter distances than other networks, has the capability to provide thanks to the its unique design and infrastructure.

A 5G network relies on radio waves transmitted between antennas and phones. Compared with 2G, 3G and 4G, 5G uses a high frequency which allows more devices to join a network at high speed. The downside is that these waves – millimeter waves – can only travel short distances and are absorbed by foliage and buildings. Hence, 5G networks require more antennas than previous networks. However, these antennas are smaller and require less power than previous iterations, so building 5G networks in cities is a significant infrastructure challenge but one that is achievable, with the upside being low latency and high speeds.

Politically vital

Governments see 5G as a crucial development for two key reasons.

First, as with all tech upgrades, 5G is a sign of progress, innovation and accomplishment. Hence, promises around 5G are being made by most world leaders, especially those seeking to appeal to divided electorates with concrete, forward-looking promises.

Domestic politics aside, 5G’s deployment will shape the economies of the future, ushering in a world of smart cities, enhanced agriculture and autonomous factories and vehicles. No industry will be untouched, with retail, transport, healthcare, military and financial services set to benefit, primarily via the Internet of Things. IHS Markit estimates that 5G could unlock up to $12.3 trillion of revenues across a wide range of industries.

As Trump recognises, the successful deployment of the world’s first 5G national network would be a huge political and economic win, especially given the ongoing US-China trade war. But, in truth, the country who is first will be bested by those countries who harness 5G’s full potential.

A 5G-enabled future

5G promises to change the way that we all live and work. For example, inner-city infrastructure should be revolutionised, with everything from lampposts to charge points, bike racks to bins, all coming online and being transformed into smart objects as ‘smart cities’ move closer to reality. Transport development will be aided by this significant upgrade will autonomous, self-driving vehicles set to be one of the big winners.

In finance, too, there’ll be big winners. Banking will be enhanced as 5G allows for operations, such as payments, to be extended via the 5G network, including wearables, IOT devices and VR. With latency and transaction speeds reduced, fintech apps will improve their services. Rather than waiting for the promise of blockchain or AI, 5G seems like a quick win for financial services that should be achieved in the not too distant future.

As with most technological revolutions, the real-world realisation of the potential is still taking time. 5G’s rollout has been delayed and it will still be some time before consumers enjoy the benefits. There have also been concerns around the amount of electromagnetic radiation produced by 5G’s high-frequency network, which has led some to believe that it could cause certain types of cancer. The WHO has allayed fears, saying that “no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use” and classifying the amount of radiation caused by 5G as being harmful as eating pickled vegetables or  using talcum powder.

So it looks like the great benefits outweigh the minor risks and, when it eventually arrives, given the size of the opportunity it presents, all companies, industries and countries should be seeking to take advantage. In short, believe the hype. The 5G revolution could be really interesting.