By Kevin Hasley, Head of Product at RootMetrics by IHS Markit
The interest around 5G is growing rapidly and rightly so given the ways it promises to change the fabric of cellular networks and bring forth innovation that will benefit the world at large. From healthcare to agriculture to infrastructure, advances over the next few months will help show what 5G will enable and what consumers might benefit from soon.
Like previous rollouts of 3G and 4G, the rollout of 5G will bring about noticeable technological advancements and revolutionise the way we live. Such changes will be apparent on a global scale as infrastructure across the world embed the new technology.
5G ultimately promises greater speeds, capacity, reliability, and ultra-low latency required for critical services and the growth of IoT across worldwide.
Because 5G has the potential to unlock so much, leading nations will be particularly keen to immediately tap into its benefits to boost productivity, improve communities and transform everyday services.
A revolution in mobile internet speeds
The enhanced speed of 5G will be a vital component to a better mobile experience. During our recent testing in South Korea we recorded a 426.4 Mbps median download speed in Seoul. To put this in perspective, the fastest median download speed we recorded during our testing of 4G LTE in the UK was 51.7 Mbps in Liverpool.
Ultimately, 5G speeds should exceed 1 Gbps, allowing for the growth of new applications and use cases that are not possible or have not even been thought of today.
The lower latency of 5G will substantially reduce lag and help improve streaming applications like online gaming, video calling and interactive live sports experiences, among others.
Nations with a strong manufacturing presence will be keen to use 5G to support smarter factories that possess the ability to process more information, automate actions quicker and increase production at an accelerated rate and at a potentially cheaper cost.
The ultra-low latency of 5G will be a key factor in sensor and command & control applications. This of course will take time to adopt but the benefits will bring greater economic prosperity and support mission critical communications.
Mission-critical applications require high-security standards, nearly universal coverage, and a signal that supports ultra-reliable, low latency communications (URLLC). These are applications where a network failure could lead to potentially disastrous consequences.
Use cases among other mission-critical applications will include developments such as remote medical surgery, autonomous driving, robots and drones, and even farming automation.
The greater capacity offered by 5G will allow networks to support more devices and enable more data-intensive tasks. From this perspective, 5G will serve as a key component in the expansion of daily connected activity.
The higher capacity of 5G will prove a benefit both in crowded situations and in helping expand mobility coverage for commuters and others on the move.
A host of countries have already made early berths into the automated vehicle space and many agree the mass adoption of 5G, with its promise of greater capacity and ultra-low latency, will provide the necessary means for driverless vehicles to become a reality.
Autonomous car systems require incredible data processing capabilities and speeds needed to mimic the timing of human reflexes. Handling, processing, and analysing this amount of data will require a better connected network than the existing 4G technology.
5G will serve as a key component in the expansion of our daily connected lives and help propel the rollout of the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT applications can only develop in an environment that offers flexible network delivery, rapid speeds, low latency and near faultless reliability–precisely the type of benefits that 5G will provide. The benefits of IoT may be seen on a construction site to track the condition of materials, or in a mechanical engineering facility to gauge and optimise machinery performance.
Economies will be able to see an increase in productivity as a result of businesses being able to apply devices that can sense and affect change in an automated, real-time manner.
In an economic sense, countries that invest in the hardware, software applications and cloud computing resources to perform analysis and management will experience what a connected world will look like first. It also allows companies, governments and public authorities to re-think how they deliver services and produce goods.
The global race
The race is on as many countries gear up to unlock 5G capabilities. Some have already made significant leaps, with South Korea believed to be making the most ground in the ‘5G race’ by making it available to businesses and consumers already.
With its early lead implementing 5G, South Korea is offering services at a scale not currently possible in the UK. In fact, RCR Wireless reported that subscriber growth in South Korea jumped from 280K in the first week to over 2 million in just four months.
Although there is limited rollout across Europe, soaring auction prices have raised concerns that operators will have limited investment to develop infrastructure for new 5G antennas and base stations.
Spectrum auctions recently conducted in Germany saw operators spend near to seven billion euros. This led to Vodafone having to slash dividends following the German sale, amid concerns spending had exceeded expectations.
Some commentators have speculated increased spending on the spectrum would mean less for companies to spend on building the network via new masts, servers and base stations. It’s unclear if there could potentially be a knock-on effect on consumer prices.
Where does the UK stand?
Whilst the UK was not first to the race, 5G services have been recently launched in some key cities. However, for the UK to experience the full benefits of 5G, it must be able to operate in densely populated hotspots first and well.
The former DCMS secretary, Jeremy Wright announced several rounds of funding for 5G testbeds to best equip the UK rollout, but much is still required to fully reap the benefits.
How can we collaborate globally?
A contentious area surrounds how 5G may be regulated. Indeed, many operators have suggested uncertainty in regulation as a key stumbling block that must be overcome. Beyond the uncertainty regarding current regulations, 5G also introduces the prospect of additional regulatory hurdles, such as having to deal with cities and other local governments on small-cell rollouts.
For 5G to truly expand within UK cities and provide full coverage for consumers, landlords must be brought into the discussion and show willingness to add masts and infrastructure to buildings.
Design of spectrum auctions and rollout obligations are also often top of mind, as are regulations that influence new business models such as those regarding privacy, security and indemnity.
Looking beyond these regulatory issues, the growing appreciation of just how important connectivity is to 21st century life cannot be underplayed.
The UN has officially declared connectivity as a human right and called on more countries to harness the power of connectivity. As 5G rollouts continue, testing network performance will be a critical step toward assuring both the consumer experience and potential economic impacts can be delivered as expected.