Features | 08 Mar 2019

Tech Trivia: What is 5G, and when will we get it?

Faster and more reliable, 5G is on its way to Vodafone UK to transform our mobile world. But what exactly is 5G, and what will it enable? It’s time to demystify the data…

With the explosion of data-hungry apps, augmented reality, connected vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT), fast, reliable mobile data has become increasingly important for everything from your iPad to your dog’s collar.
Today, our mobile network delivers greater speed and reliability than ever before, but our team’s already working on the network of tomorrow. Join us in preparing for 5G, the next generation of mobile data, and get ready for the future at Vodafone UK…

What does 5G stand for?

Chances are you’ve heard the term ‘5G’ before. But what exactly does it mean? Short for fifth generation mobile networks (or fifth generation wireless systems), 5G is the fifth and newest iteration of our global mobile networking standard.
To give a bit of background, the first generation of wireless mobile technology (1G) was introduced in the early 1980s. This network was analogue and voice-only. 1G phones tended to have a pretty poor battery life and sometimes dropped calls completely. However, they did set the wheels in motion for the network we have today.
When 2G launched in the 1990s, phones were transformed from analogue to digital. Call and text encryption and basic data services like SMS, picture messages and MMS were introduced. We also sent the UK’s first text message back in 1992.

This was followed by 3G in 1998, which ushered in a new era of video calling and mobile internet. Then came 4G from 2012, supporting functions that demand even higher speeds like HD mobile TV, gaming services and video conferencing – that’s where we are today.

What impact will 5G have for mobile?

Like generations before it, 5G promises even faster speeds. But perhaps most importantly, it will reduce latency (or lag). This is critical for applications like self-driving cars and VR/AR that require an instantaneous response. It will also increase bandwidth, catering for a myriad of devices and emerging technologies at once, even where demand is high.
This is all great news for smartphone users seeking to download movies or play games faster, but the real benefits will shine through in brand new applications. Things like remote surgery performed in real time with robotic arms, more immersive entertainment, automated factories, smart cities or augmented reality car windscreens that alert drivers to potential hazards could all become reality with the power of 5G connectivity.
Another major upside to the 5G network is its user-centric nature. Today’s traffic management is focused on the most efficient and optimal management of limited network resources. However, 5G will be far more attuned and able to adapt to user demand – whether that user is human, or millions of connected ‘things’ like drones, fitness trackers, or your kettle.

When will we see 5G in action?

The emergence of 5G will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary; standards will exist alongside one another as they develop over time. But this approach will enable new services to be trialled and tested before they’re rolled out, while also helping to establish innovative uses of 5G.
That’s something we’re working on already at Vodafone UK. Over the past 18 months we’ve partnered with Ericsson to successfully test a prototype device at King’s College in London; we made the UK’s first holographic call over 5G; and most recently trialled 5G with our ‘blast pod’ at Manchester airport.

We’ve also deployed Massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) – the key building block for 5G – across our network. This technology uses multiple antennae to send and receive data more efficiently and boost capacity where loads of people connect to the network at the same time.
So, while building a full 5G network will take time and 5G isn’t expected to roll out globally until 2020, networks are already being enhanced to keep ahead of demand and bring you some of the benefits much sooner.

What else needs to happen before I can connect?

Just like you need a 4G-capable device to connect to 4G networks, you’ll need the correct hardware to connect to 5G. Qualcomm announced the first 5G modem for smartphones, called the Snapdragon X50, in 2016, while several phones unveiled at MWC 2019 boasted 5G capabilities.
With the tech approaching mass market adoption, our continued work behind the scenes, and download speeds ten times faster than an average 4G connection, you can be sure that there’s going to be a lot more 5G news soon. Watch this space.

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