Everything you need to know about 5G

5G represents the next generation of network technology. Not just for mobile internet access from your smartphone and tablet, but also for the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).

This means all the things we’ve heard about that feel a little futuristic - driverless cars, holographic imaging and delivery drones, for example. To call 5G a technological revolution is not to overstate its significance. More than just faster mobile internet, this is about powering the technologies of the future.

What is 5G?

5G (‘fifth generation’) is the next generation of mobile broadband. While 4G is quick - as we download HD films, stream music, game on our phones and Facetime our family overseas - 5G is about to make everything faster still.

As 5G will use higher radio frequencies, it will be able to reach faster speeds, carry more data and connect more devices at once. As well as having a huge effect on mobile communications, it will impact far and beyond how we use our phones day to day.

How fast will 5G be?

As 5G is still being tested and trialled, it’s difficult to pin down absolute speed specifications, particularly as there are often significant differences between theoretical and actual mobile network speeds.

Theoretically the maximum speed for 4G networks is 1Gbps - and the maximum speed for 5G is being slated as between 10 and 50Gbps. While it’s unlikely the 5G networks first rolled out will top these speeds, rest assured we’re talking about a faster mobile service than we’ve ever seen.

What changes will we see with 5G?

  • Day to day - In terms of phone use, you’ll see faster download and upload speeds, smoother online streaming, better quality voice and video calls, better network coverage and more reliable mobile connections.
  • Video - Most noticeable will be the difference when downloading UltraHD (4k) and 3D Video - the downloading of an entire UltraHD film in seconds or streaming an 8K-resolution video in 3D without a hitch. It will also be perfect for using web-connected VR and AR.
  • Rural broadband - 5G will also be extremely useful in rural and remote areas. Mobile broadband is way easier to implement than fixed lines, and since 5G will be miles better than 4G in speed and quality, it'll work just as smoothly as a fibre optic line. You'll be able to do things like play online games, make video calls, and stream HD video over a home 5G connection - even if you're somewhere out in the sticks.
  • ‘Internet of Things’ - 5G will be particularly good at handling the 'Internet of Things' - think smart devices like self-driving cars, AI personal assistants, smart appliances etc. The higher bandwidth means lots of devices can send data to each other at high speeds at the same time, and low latency means they can communicate pretty much instantaneously.

What is the difference between 4G and 5G?

Simply put, a lot... 5G will be a massive improvement on 4G in every way:

  • Speed - Whatever the realities of 5G speeds, expect a vast improvement on 4G - well in excess of 1Gbps (and up to 50Gbps once the network evolves).
  • Latency - On 4G, latency is usually around 50ms - yikes. But on 5G, it should be in the region of just 1ms.
  • Bandwidth - Behind the scenes, 5G will be able to handle being connected to loads of devices at once - more than 4G can currently manage.
  • Cost - When 5G plans do finally launch, we should all expect them to be quite a lot more expensive than 4G (at least to begin with). More hunting down of Wi-Fi networks then!

When will 5G be rolled out in the UK and which networks will offer it first?

The word is 5G will arrive in the UK towards the end of 2019. Ofcom has been busy auctioning radio spectrum bands for use by the UK’s biggest networks - EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone - and there will be further auctions throughout 2019.

EE is expected to be the first network to roll out its 5G services and has announced plans to launch in 16 UK cities beginning with London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester.

Don’t expect a complete network replacement when 5G does finally land in the UK. As with previous generation networks, you’ll see a joining up of networks to begin with, to ensure users never lose connection. Think of the older networks (3G and 4G) acting as supplementary networks to guarantee service in areas not covered by 5G.

Can I get a 5G mobile deal?

To use 5G, you need two things: a 5G-capable phone and a 5G mobile network to connect to. Unfortunately, neither of those things exist for standard users yet.

The only 5G internet we've got so far are tiny networks for research purposes and field trials, and 5G phones are works-in-progress, so watch this space.