What does 5G mobile technology really mean and how is it going to affect the way we live and work?
First there was 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G. This year it will be 5G and 6G trials are already being conducted in Korea. Who knows where we are in the spectrum?
Well, it’s all very topical. This month 5G is being launched at the Glastonbury festival in the UK, as countries around the world also announce their own launch dates. The launch of a new technology at a festival? What could possibly go wrong?
Many things have gone wrong so far. The furore around the Chinese company Huawei means that for many people 5G is seen as a ‘bad’ technology that is going to surveil us and watch our every move. And all for the benefit of a bad state actor.
The reality is somewhat different and much more positive. This super-fast mobile technology will be faster than Wi-Fi and it means customers will go back to seeing their mobile operator as their technology master.
That will mean looking around to find a cheaper payment plan as 5G will be more expensive and competition between operators will be intense.
The telecom operators are marketing 5G with all guns blazing. After years of being referred to as a ‘dumb pipe’ for content and seeing voice calls and text messaging being replaced by Wi-Fi and WhatsApp, 5G is the bells-and-whistles technology that is likely to make them relevant again.
The expectations of the previous technologies of 3G and 4G were set very high, in the year 2000 operators even paid the UK government £22 billion for 3G licences and this was before that technology was even ready.
The consequent buzz around the launch of 4G was understandably less intense, but if it wasn’t for 4G speed, there would be no Uber, Spotify or Netflix on mobile. The impact of 4G should not be underestimated, but what of 5G?
It's important to understand that the potential of 5G is the difference that reduction in latency will have on the digital world we live in. This, as any teenager, will tell you is the lag between an order and a consequence. Nobody likes lag or slow latency.
Many people understandably focus on the difference in speed between 4G and 5G, but it will be this latency that will be THE major step change between the two generations.
Nascent technologies such as the Internet Of Things, Smart devices, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will suddenly have a larger audience as a result. 5G connectivity can improve every single device.
It is hard to quantify the real impact this will have on our lives and what opportunities this will unlock, but the potential is limitless. Who could have predicted Uber before we had 4G in our pockets?
An internet connection is currently seen as something as essential as a home utility. 5G, however, can see that connection reach its full potential and be more reliable, readily available and as plentiful as water from a tap, as opposed to the speed fluctuations with home broadband and 4G signals.
There will no longer be a struggle to connect in busy or built-up areas. With instant access to content and richer AR/VR experiences in and outside the home, exciting times are ahead.
But as transformative as 5G may be, there will be challenges ahead, not least when it comes to health concerns. Last month, a report from HSBC Securities analyst Sunil Rajgopal, cited countries such as Belgium and Switzerland that have delayed 5G rollouts due to difficulty in measuring radiation emissions.
Such a reaction may be overly protective and mildly alarmist, but the contention over cell towers has been part of the mobile industry since its inception. As with the march of most technology, such concerns are likely to be left by the wayside, but they may delay widespread adoption.
One company that is excited about the potential of 5G is London-based Mobsta, an ‘innovation leader’ in mobile location technology and monetizing mobile location and user data at scale.
The company says it provides a platform that unlocks location data to create mobile advertising audiences for better targeting and effectiveness. It is understandably very bullish on the introduction of 5G.
“Reducing the lag between data communication will lead to a complete evolution of computing technology. With access to cloud computer processing, devices will no longer need to rely on on-board processing and this will lead to longer-lasting batteries in those devices and more energy-efficient connected home devices.
“This energy efficiency and more efficient access to cloud processing can make devices cheaper to manufacture as well as more cost-effective to run, thus making many of these technologies more accessible,” said George Dixon, Strategy Director, Mobsta.
While 5G may benefit companies such as Mobsta in obvious ways, there are other less overt ways where it may transform life in the UK.
What of all those rural areas where broadband internet has not reached? Rather like a long distance from a railway station or an airport, slow broadband has already impacted negatively on house prices.
Imagine what a fast 5G connection might do to house valuations in these areas. The rise of freelance workers and the remote office means that huge swathes of the country could be reintegrated into industry and digital efficiency and inclusion.
While, rather like the dramatically overhyped launch of 3G more than 16 years ago, it is important to be grounded, 5G is still likely to be transformative.
It will take time, customers will need to be persuaded to change their moribund operator plans into a more expensive package and that will create its own type of ‘lag’ when it comes to widespread adoption of 5G.
Youthful revellers at Glastonbury this month will be the first to experience the speed of 5G and it is unlikely they will remember or even notice.
But what is certain, those same revellers will be using 5G in the years to come as naturally, and as effectively, as any technology they have ever used.
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