What is 5G and why do I need it? 5 things you should know about the proposed mobile phone technology

Internet Of Things, Mobile phones, Nokia
Japan's NTT Docomo's ambitious 5G launch plans include streaming of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo,
Japan’s NTT Docomo’s ambitious 5G launch plans include live streaming of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo

While many areas of the UK still haven’t got 4G coverage, mobile phone companies are already gearing up for the fifth generation of mobile phone technology which will make our data connections even faster and our smart phones even smarter than ever before.  But what is 5G and why do you need it? Tech Digest reports.  

On Tuesday Nokia previewed a presentation it plans to make at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona later this month, detailing its vision for 5G technology.

The company is aiming to be one of the world’s largest 5G players when the technology is eventually rolled out to the consumer, probably in 2020 according to The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance.

But what will 5G actually mean for the consumer, many of whom haven’t even got 4G yet. “5G is going to be faster, smarter and less power-hungry mobile broadband,” explains Narayan Menon, Founder and CTO of Engineering at XCellAir.

“It means “giga” data rates with super-low transmission delays; being able to download a high-definition movie in seconds versus minutes with 4G; a hugely improved content viewing experience; faster smartphones; and a variety of longer-lasting wearable devices. All delivered seamlessly while on the move – whether you’re commuting, travelling or stationary.” Sounds great doesn’t it?

Nokia screen grab1. It will be faster (of course)

Well that’s taken as a given these days. Nokia claims that it has tested a 5G connection with download speeds of up to 30 gigabits per second. That’s more than 1,000 times faster than your average 4G connection. In the real world, though, there’s very little chance of your mobile phone actually getting speeds that fast.

Trees, buildings, your distance from a mast and other customers trying to use the mobile phone network are going to slow down speeds dramatically compared to what Nokia was able to achieve in a lab.

Nevertheless the wireless industry is still expecting 5G to be really fast: 10 to 100 times faster according to Brian Daly, director of government standards at AT&T who speaking at a panel on 5G wireless technologies held by the CTIA wireless association in Washington, US on Tuesday.

Those faster speeds will also allow more customers to be connected at the same time, giving the network more capacity and making connections more reliable for mobile customers.

2. It will make cars safer to drive!

Nokia’s 5G forecast makes some bold claims including this one. Currently self-driving test cars are powered by wireless networks. One problem with wireless technology that’s already emerged is that there’s a large amount of latency, or lag, between the car’s sensor and the data centre sending information to the car.

Worst case scenario is that this could cause a car to crash.

One of 5G’s biggest promises is ultra-low latency, delivering uninterrupted communication flow to driverless cars. That could dramatically improve vehicle safety and reduce congestion.

When self-drivng cars do become a reality (and they will),  they’ll have to identify an obstacle and immediately communicate that to the data centre, and receive instructions from the cloud, with virtually no latency whatsoever in order to be safe.

3. Ultra High definition video/Faster downloading

Thanks largely to wireless technology, most of us now use our mobile phones to stream video from the internet and for downloading video content. Many of even use 4G for video streaming.

However with 5G, video streaming will become even more widespread with even greater speeds and data allowances for customers. For example it will be possible to stream feed of a football match in Ultra HD or a concert in real-time on your smartphone or tablet.

You could even switch the camera angle and get truly instant replay. What’s more, the video would be in stunning 4K, about four-times the resolution of HD.

That will all be possible with a 5G network, Nokia believes. At last year’s MWC, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo said it aims have a 5G network up and running in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

4. Increased automation and networked robots

Robotic surgical tools can be incredibly useful machines for doctors. But they need to react in real-time as soon as the doctor issues a command.

The same goes for robots that perform complex manufacturing commands, which need to communicate instantly with other robots on the assembly line via the IoT (Internet of Things).

Nokia predicts that 5G’s low latency should help to allow networked robots to perform even more complicated tasks in the future.

5. Virtual reality

With 5G, Nokia believes virtual reality users “will be able to collaborate as if they are in the same physical location.”

It could even usher in a new era of video games and remote collaboration, reckons Marcus Weldon, chief technology officer at Nokia:

“5G will give birth to the next phase of human possibilities, bringing about the automation of everything,” He adds: “This automation, driven by a smart, invisible network, will create new businesses, give rise to new services and, ultimately, free up more time for people.”

 Want to find out more about what 5G can offer? You can read Nokia’s White Paper ‘5G use cases and requirements’ here.

Chris Price
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