UK's first 5G trial set to launch

The largest mobile network operator in the UK is launching the country’s first 5G (generation) mobile network trial in October, in East London. Users and select businesses in 10 London sites will be provided with beta 5G broadband devices according to mobile company EE, as current phones can’t utilize 5G networks. 

When the fifth generation launches it will enable much faster mobile data download and upload speeds. To date, a new generation mobile network has appeared roughly every 10 years to keep up with growing demand.

“Over the coming few months we’re going to hear many people who are launching or testing 5G networks,” professor of electronic and electrical engineering at UCL, Izzat Darwazeh, told WikiTribune. But “none of these will be a proper 5G network.” 

Three companies have claimed to launch the world’s first 5G network: Qatar’s Ooredoo, Finland’s Elisa and Australia’s Telstra. But “we are still seeing much slower speeds than 5G is expected to deliver,” professor of cyber security at Ulster University, Kevin Curran, told WikiTribune. “These are not 5G networks but rather a 5G implementation of a 4G network.”

There is only one device, produced by Motorola, which can pick up 5G signals in America, according to Matthew Higgins, associate professor of energy and electrical systems at Warwick University.

Most countries are unlikely to launch 5G networks before 2020. “The next big push will probably happen around the 2020 Olympics,” Higgins told WikiTribune.

Marc Allera, chief executive of EE, said 5G will be ready for consumers by June 2019, but a UK rollout of 5G mobile networks isn’t expected until 2020 according to the government’s 5G strategy.

Time between command and execution trimmed

5G will reduce what is known as latency, which is the lag between telling the digital device to do something and it responding. This will be useful for things like online gaming on a mobile network, but more importantly for driverless cars where a response time within a couple of milliseconds is needed. Currently this time is around four to eight milliseconds, Matthew Higgins said.

5G could also be used in healthcare. “A surgeon could have a glove on one hand and moving a scalpel in the air, and a robot would be running the scalpel to a patient somewhere else,” Darwazeh said.

It will also potentially enable the IoT (Internet of Things) to thrive, as more devices will be able to access the mobile internet at the same time. The IoT is the idea that many devices connected to the internet, relaying vast amounts of data, such as commercial products, transport management, agriculture and drones, as well as help technologies like driverless cars and augmented reality to take off.

However, 5G has a much shorter range than previous generations and will initially mostly be limited to cities. This could limit driverless cars to these areas, according to website Motherboard. Telecom companies have little economic reason to deliver 5G coverage along road networks with few users. One way this could be solved is by using what is known as mesh networking. This is where cars not connected to the internet connect to cars that are.

At the moment what is technically known as a “cell”, but is more colloquially referred to as a mobile phone mast or base station can connect people and vehicles within 20, 30, or 40 miles according to Curran. With 5G “some cells’ [ranges] would be down to hundreds of meters. Others will only cross one or two meters.” For this reason he believes people might offer use of their routers to telecom companies. “A lot of 5G mobile hotspots, that we connect to on our 5G handsets [mobiles], will actually be people’s broadband routers, which are connected back to the internet as a community WiFi spot,” he said. If you’re a member of BT, for instance, you can opt into doing this in exchange for the ability to use others routers when travelling.

Super sensitive cities

Another of 5G’s touted benefits is smart cities. It “will enable us to have cities which have sensors in every device, and not bring the network to its knees,” Curran said. He estimates more than 50 percent of people in four years time will be using 5G devices and 5G networks.

Could 5G ever replace broadband networks? It is “highly likely that 5G or with future generations it will get to a point where people won’t be using broadband and they’re gonna be relying on the mobile network for their internet,” Darwazeh said. “In fact you are starting to see this now with 4G.” Curran was more skeptical. “It’s possible, but I don’t see that for a little while yet, because fiber optic cable has extremely high bandwidth.”

Implementing 5G will come at a cost — particularly with the needed higher density of cells, and users will need to purchase new mobile phones. The experts WikiTribune spoke to had different views on what 5G would mean for the price of consumers’ contracts. Darwazeh said that historically contracts in the west have been declining and that he would expect that to continue. Curran said “you get nothing for free… mobile operators have to bid for the new spectrum, which allows them to broadcast in 5G. Data costs money, and that will inevitably be passed on to the consumer.”

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