By now, most of you have already heard about the roll out of the 5G mobile communications network.  This technology is widely anticipated as it will bring faster speeds and lower latency to mobile devices.  But what changes 5G will bring to our phones and how we use them? Let's take a closer look.

What is 5G?

5G is latest series of wireless network technologies with each generation being defined by the particular technologies it uses.  1G networks used analogue cellular technologies while 2G used CDMA, TDMA and GSM.  3G significantly improved speeds with the introduction of EVDO, UMTS, and HSPA.  4G added WiMAX and LTE, which are very fast wireless technologies.

Fifth Generation of cellular mobile communications networks incorporates a wide range of new technologies to deliver faster data rates, higher system capacity, reduced latency, and reduced costs for mobile networks.

5G uses millimetre wave technology.  This is a wireless technology which uses very small signal wavelengths ranging from 10 millimetres (0.4 inches) to 1 millimetre (0.04 inches) in size.  These wavelengths are broadcast at a very high frequency — typically above 3.5GHz (gigahertz). This technology makes 5G ideal for applications like driver-less or remotely-driven vehicles.

What are the benefits?

The main advantages of using 5G instead of 4G are faster speeds, lower latency, and greater flexibility.  A 5G transmission system also doesn’t use as much electricity to run and has a higher system capacity than 4G which means more users can be on the network simultaneously without disruption.

On the downside, the millimetre wave signals produced by 5G do not travel very far and will not penetrate through objects very well.  This means that 5G networks will need more transmission sites than 4G.  Fortunately, 5G transmission sites are quite small and can be mounted to the sides of buildings.

What does it mean for phones in 2019?

Phones will get faster… much faster

Experts believe that speeds will initially reach 10 Gbps which is significantly faster than 4G.  Speeds may increase even more as 5G technologies evolve over time and the quality of the networks improve.  Scientists who have performed field testing of 5G managed to achieve speeds of 1 Tbps — which is about 65,000 times faster than current 4G speeds in the UK.

5G roll out will mean that your phone will perform any network-related tasks extremely quickly.  You will be able to send large files or download HD movies on your phone in a matter of seconds.  High speeds will change the way you use your mobile phone and give you access to fantastic new technologies.

You will have to (eventually) buy a new phone

Unfortunately, 4G phones cannot be easily upgraded to 5G, which is why we will see dozens of new 5G-enabled phones released in 2019.  The good news is that manufacturers will be aggressively pitching their 5G phones to buyers to lock them into their ecosystem.  There will be increased price competition as Apple, Samsung, Oppo and other leading manufacturers attempt to gain market dominance on 5G networks.

However, in the early roll out stages, and we're talking at least a year, 5G phones can still use 4G. All 5G phones will have additional hardware installed to make them 4G compatible. Eventually, 5G networks will replace 4G and phones will no longer need to be backwards compatible.

Extraordinary new Internet technologies will be available

The high bandwidth, ultra-low latency and high density connectivity available on 5G networks will allow for many new Internet technologies to be delivered to our mobile devices.  Some of the technologies that will use 5G include:

•   Remote controlled passenger vehicles

•   Wireless virtual reality (VR) headsets

•   Augmented reality systems for your smartphone

•   Mobile phone game streaming services

•   Ultra-high definition mobile video

•   Health tracking devices which send data in real time to your phone and the Internet

•   Advanced cloud data management services

•   High definition live streaming from your phone

•   High definition video calls

These cutting-edge applications will change how we use mobile phones.  Phones will become much more versatile with more powerful hardware to accommodate the new technologies supported by 5G.

5G will kick start the Internet of Things (IoT)

5G will also help to facilitate The Internet of Things — a network of vehicles, devices, home appliances and other machines that can communicate with one another via the Internet.  In the future, IoT will allow you to do things like:

•   Be automatically alerted if a sick child has their temperature increase

•   Turn your home’s lights on and off via your phone

•   Remotely call your self-driving car and tell it to pick you up

•   See who is ringing your door bell at home via your phone

•   Have your fridge send messages to your phone when you are out of milk

As the 5G network rolls out in 2019, there will be an explosion of IoT enabled devices that will work in conjunction with your mobile phone.  The complexity and utility of the IoT will gradually increase over time, allowing you to control many aspects of your life via your mobile phone.

Don’t panic — it will take time

If you just bought a 4G phone and don’t want to spend another £999 on the latest 5G compatible iPhone (which will most likely launch next year) — don’t worry. There will be plenty of time to switch to 5G as the roll out will take some time.  

Currently, there are only a handful of 5G trial sites operating in the UK.  This includes a 5G trial being run by EE in East London Tech City.  As a first launch stage EE plans to roll out 5G to London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester.  The UK government is also providing some funding to trial 5G in rural areas.  You will have plenty of time to choose a great 5G phone at a price you can afford.