We probably are familiar with how fast the 4G LTE speed experience is, but what if I tell you that 5G is probably going to be everywhere soon?
Today’s 4G phone networks are literally over a thousand times faster than 2G & 3G, but even that won’t be able to meet the demand for data traffic of future applications. That is why a whole new generation of cellular communications standards is already in development, and 5G isn’t far from becoming the next hottest tech buzzword. But how did we get here and what is 5G going to change? Let me explain.
In December 2014 the GSMA outlined eight criteria for 5G. A network connection should meet a majority of the eight in order to qualify as 5G:
- 1-10Gbps connections to end points in the field (i.e. not theoretical maximum)
- 1 millisecond end-to-end round trip delay (latency)
- 1000x bandwidth per unit area
- 10-100x number of connected devices
- (Perception of) 99.999% availability
- (Perception of) 100% coverage
- 90% reduction in network energy usage
- Up to 10 year battery life for low power, machine-type devices
All these analysis- What does it mean to me if I am downloading?
5G will be much, much faster than previous generations. A full HD movie will be able to be downloaded in under 10 seconds, compared with a similar number of minutes over 4G. And that time for 4G is contingent on having peak rates for the duration of the download, which is very rarely the case.
While 5G isn’t expected until 2020, an increasing number of companies are investing now to prepare for the new mobile wireless standard. We explore 5G, how it works and its impact on future wireless systems.
5G isn’t here yet, in fact it probably won’t arrive until at least 2020, but it should be worth the wait, as it will make 4G and potentially even broadband look sluggish in comparison.
The exact speeds are yet to be finalised, but early tests are already achieving remarkable speeds and these give us a good idea of what we can expect when 5G finally launches.
The Next Generation Mobile Networks alliance states that for something to be considered 5G it must offer data rates of several tens of megabits per seconds to tens of thousands of users simultaneously, while a minimum of 1 gigabit per second should be offered to tens of workers on the same office floor.
That’s all a little vague, but the signs are promising. Some estimates put download speeds at up to 1000 times faster than 4G, potentially exceeding 10Gbps. That would enable you to download an entire HD film in less than a second.
Some sources, such as The Korea Times, even reckon 5G will networks be capable of transmitting data at up to 20Gbps. To put that in context while LTE-A can theoretically achieve speeds of around 300Mbps you’re not likely to get more than around 42Mbps in reality and standard 4G has real world speeds of just around 14Mbps.
Nokia’s thoughts are similarly ambitious, with the company suggesting that you’ll be able to stream 8K video in 3D over 5G.
Some estimates are more conservative though, but even the most conservative put it at several dozen times faster than 4G.
Already 5G trials are taking place, with Verizon in the US for example showing that its technology can achieve download speeds of 30-50 times faster than 4G. That would enable you to download a full movie in around 15 seconds, versus around 6 minutes on 4G.
The 5G Innovation Centre has achieved even higher speeds in test environments of around 1 Terrabyte Per Second (1Tbps). That’s roughly 65,000 times faster than typical 4G speeds and would enable you to download a file around 100 times larger than a full movie in just 3 seconds.
However, that’s unlikely to be replicated in the real world. Indeed, in an actual-use environment (rather than a specially built test site), DOCOMO has recorded speeds in excess of 2Gbps, which is still extremely impressive. Closer to home EE plans to begin trialling 5G speeds of 1Gbps in 2016.
One of the world’s leading chipmakers is Qualcomm, which supplies to phone giants like Samsung, LG, and Apple. Its latest modem is the Snapdragon X20, which we’re expecting to arrive in handsets in the first half of next year. Qualcomm describes this modem as an “essential pillar” for the rollout of 5G thanks to the rapid download speeds it supports.
For example, the Snapdragon X20 offers LTE Category 18 speeds of 1.2Gbps. That’s equal to 0.15 Gigabytes of data, which is in turn equal to 150 Megabytes. The BBC says that, on average, 60-minute programs downloaded in high quality (1,500kbps encoding) take up about 630MB of space. So with a 1.2Gbps download speed, you’d expect to download that show in just over four seconds. Not bad, eh?
OOfcom for its part sees 5G as achieving real world speeds of between 10 and 50Gbps, which is insanely fast whichever end of the scale it ends up at. In short it’s clear that it will leave 4G in its dust, and 3G probably forgotten.
Plenty of organisations are already testing 5G delivery methods. Samsung says it’s managed to achieve 7.5Gbps, while Nokia claims a more impressive 10Gbps. There’s also China’s Huawei, which has managed 3.6Gbps. When you compare that to the best speeds in the UK – EE’s 300Mbps LTE-A network – then we could be talking about a 12-fold speed increase. Of course, the delivery of these speeds could quite easily be scuppered by the same old problems as before: thick walls, living in hyper-rural areas, and anything else that would hamper your signal.
Also, delivery isn’t the only factor here; your phone has to be able to support such speeds. Every smartphone has a modem built into it, which allows the handset to connect to mobile networks. If your modem can’t handle such blisteringly fast speeds, then you’re basically stuck.
Latency is how long it takes the network to respond to a request, which could be you trying to play a song or video or load a website for example. It has to respond before it even starts loading, which can lead to minor but perceptible lag and is especially problematic for online games, as each input has a new response time.
Over 3G those response times are typically around 120 milliseconds and on 4G they’re less than half that at between roughly 15 and 60 milliseconds. The theory is that on 5G response times will drop to just 1 millisecond, which will be completely imperceptible.
That will help with all the things we use data for now, but more than that it’s necessary for new mobile data uses, such as self-driving cars, which need to respond to inputs and changes in situation immediately.
While the peak download and upload rates seem fairly ambitious, the “user experienced” targets aren’t particularly mind-bending – and are certainly within the realms of possibility. In fact, they’re already possible in some select areas across the UK on EE’s network (depending on your phone and tariff). Of course, the UK will need to get ready for 5G in terms of infrastructure before we can hope to get such lofty speeds across the country.
When we asked Timmons whether he thought the UK was well prepared for the rollout of 5G, he said: “We’re not bad. Within Europe, the availability of spectrum is going to be critical. There’s a European decision made about two frequency bands 3.5GHz (3.4-3.8) and then the 700MHz as being target bands for 5G. Ofcom have consulted on the 3.5GHz so we’re expecting there to be that critical 5G band should become available in the UK. They are engaged on it, they’re interested, but good progress so far.”
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