5G is coming this year. With the promise of super-data speeds and better coverage, mid-to-late 2019 will usher in next-generation networks in the UK and US.
In this feature, we'll explain the key players driving 5G, why it'll probably be coming to your next phone (definitely the one after that) and how it can revolutionise home broadband.
What is 5G?
5G is the next evolution in mobile phone networks. In the last two decades we've had the launch of 3G, then 4G, and now 2019 will see the launch of 5G.
With a new network comes new capabilities, and those capabilities range from broadband-like speeds on your mobile, improved downloading and uploading speeds, and for IoT (Internet of Things) the ability for companies to control devices remotely in a much more efficient and faster way that currently possible.
By 2024 there will be over 1.5 billion of us connected to 5G, according to Ericsson, a company that makes some of the infrastructure that make all this possible. That journey kicks off soon with the first 5G networks expected to go live over the summer, and most operators having a commercially available service by the end of 2019.
What are the benefits of 5G?
The biggest noticeable benefits will be speed. 5G is expected to deliver somewhere between 80-100Mbps meaning you'll get home broadband-like speed on the go where ever you are. That's going to make a huge difference when it comes to downloading movies, large files, or playing games and for many will mean they could theoretically ditch their home broadband all together.
Another huge benefit is about how quickly you'll be able to not only pull data down from the network, but push it back up to the network. 4G has always been about getting data, be it streaming content from services like Netflix or Spotify, accessing pictures on apps like Tinder, or merely getting large attachments in an email.
For 5G, the network will be able to handle all this data much more efficiently. That improved "latency" opens up plenty of possibilities. That could be new augmented reality experiences, PC-quality gaming on your mobile with "zero lag", or having multi-way video calling without any issues.
Things should also get better on the train and in large populated areas as the 5G network will be better at coping with your movement and when lots of people are connecting to the network like a football game for example.
Beyond general consumer needs, a 5G network will also allow the control autonomous cars remotely, a connected traffic infrastructure, and remote factories working without local intervention.
What 5G devices will there be?
5G phones are coming this year - there's no doubt about that. We've heard that several devices will be teased or launched at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks, including from Xiaomi, Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo and Vivo. In the US AT&T is already selling the Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot ($499) with a monthly subscription of $70 for 15GB of 5G data a month.
We're keeping track of which 5G phones are coming in 2019 so make sure you check back regularly.
What is 5G E?
Trying to get ahead of the competition, AT&T in the US has started marketing a service it calls 5G E. Standing for 5G Evolution, the service is nothin more than a slightly faster version of 4G with some branding sparkle. AT&T argue that the service is as fast as 5G services when they official launch, but the difference here, is that it isn't actually 5G. AT&T customers using an iPhone running iOS 12.2 or some Android devices will see the 5G E logo when connected. Fellow US network Sprint isn't that impressed and has opened legal proceedings.
What carriers will offer 5G in the US?
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all confirmed to launch 5G in the US and all three are already offering 5G services in a handful of areas.
T-Mobile has deployed out 5G services in roughly 30 cities including Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Las Vegas.
AT&T has 12 cities ready for 5G wireless: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco. It will soon deploy mobile 5G in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.
Verizon has yet to detail it's mobile 5G network, but is offer a 5G home broadband replacement service instead. Verizon 5G Home users have speeds up to 1Gbps - "cut everything you hate about cable", says the corporation in its marketing. It costs from $70 per month with the first three months free (it's cheaper for existing customers) and you also get a free Apple TV 4K or Google Chromecast Ultra, too. Verizon's 5G Home service is available in Los Angeles and Sacramento in California, as well as Houston, Texas and Indianapolis. Other areas are coming soon.
What networks will offer 5G in UK?
In the UK, Vodafone, EE, and Three have confirmed they are launching commercially available 5G services in 2019 with all three currently conducting various trials around the country.
EE has been trialling its 5G network in London across nine sites and aims to be first to launch commercially in "Summer" of 2019. The initial rollout will start with each UK country capital; London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, alongside Birmingham and Manchester.
Ten more cities will get 5G coverage during 2019; Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol. EE tells Pocket-lint that although the roll-out will be slower than its 4G efforts, the network still plans to upgrade 1,500 sites over the coming year - EE says these locations will carry 25% of all the data across its entire network – but only cover 15% of the UK population.
Three says it is investing over £2 billion into its 5G rollout and has bought the most 5G spectrum in the UK. It is already running trials in London. "The first commercial quantities of 5G smartphone and home broadband devices are expected to be available by H2 2019," the company has confirmed to Pocket-lint.
"We plan to have 1,000 5G sites live by 2020," Vodafone has told Pocket-lint, but also confirmed, like EE and Three, that the 5G roll-out will take "place over a period of years, rather than months."
It will start its 5G services in major cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and London before the end of 2019. To show that's it not just about big sprawling urban metropolises, it also plans to launch 5G in the Scottish Highlands, Cornwall and the Lake District.
Like EE and Three, Vodafone has also staged a number of public trials including showcasing a holographic 5G call from it's headquarters in Newbury and a demo in Salford showing you'll be able to download an hour and 45 minute-length movie in just 24 seconds over 5G.
In order to get 5G deployed as quickly as possible, Vodafone has teamed up with O2 to build a joint 5G network. This will mostly be outside of the larger cities where the networks say they will still work autonomously. The pair already do some network-sharing and also run a joint venture that manages network sites (but not the equipment itself).
What hardware will 5G phones use?
Many of these new handsets will run Qualcomm's newly-announced Snapdragon 855 platform and the X50 5G-capable modem which was first previewed back in 2016.
Qualcomm says there are 20+ device manufacturers lined up to produce hardware including 5G Hotspots, routers, and of course smart phones in 2019 alone, with that number expected to grow as more companies embrace 5G.
As you might expect, Samsung and Huawei are also developing their own 5G modems. Huawei's Balong 5000 will work alongside the Kirin 980 platform and will debut in Huawei's first 5G phones to be announced at Mobile World Congress 2019, while Samsung's Exynos Modem 5100 will likely find there way into Samsung's S10 5G offering and other important flagship devices from the company going forward.
Beyond phones you can expect to see 5G in cars, laptops, VR and AR headsets, and a host of other devices creating a much more "connected world".