Superfast 4G mobile data service is still developing in both coverage and speed capabilities.
So why the need for 5G, especially when 4G connectivity speeds will be able to be faster than home fibre connections?
We'll explain all below, but be aware - various trials have already taken place and 5G phones are coming in 2019. Motorola announced its Moto Z3 will have a 5G Moto Mod from 2019 to be the first 5G capable phone to launch in the US. The networks will be with us gradually over the next few years.
Note that 5G isn't entirely about mobile phones - there will be a generation of laptops and tablets that will have 5G built in to follow up the incoming generation of 4G connected laptops. Plus 5G will surely enable us to dump our domestic phone lines and have home broadband which is completely dependent on cellular networks.
What is 5G?
5G is the name currently being given to the next generation of mobile data connectivity, succeeding 4G. 4G is still getting faster, but there are several advantages to moving to 5G, which we'll explain below.
It will provide unbelievably fast broadband speeds, but more importantly it will have enough capacity wherever you go to perform every function you want it to without a drop in speed or connection, no matter how many people are connected at the same time.
5G will run on a new "high-spectrum band", which uses higher frequency signals than 4G. The new band will be much less congested than at present, which will be vital for use with the Internet of Things. However, signals won't be able to travel as far, so there will be need to be more access points positioned closer together (more on that later).
Professor Andy Sutton, principal network architect at EE, believes that the aim of 5G is to become invisible. It should be a technology that's "just there", like electricity. It will enable device manufacturers to realise the Internet of Things as it will always be on and able to be tapped into without regionalisation.
Why do we need 5G?
One of the main benefits of 5G technology over 4G will not be its speed of delivery – which could be between 10Gbps and 100Gbps – but the latency.
At present, 4G is capable of between 40ms and 60ms, which is low-latency but not enough to provide real-time response. Multiplayer gaming, for example, requires a lower latency than that to ensure that when you hit a button, the remote server responds instantly.
5G's prospective ultra-low-latency could range between 1ms and 10ms. This would allow, for example, a spectator in a football stadium to watch a live stream of an alternative camera angle of the action that matches what is going on the pitch ahead with no perceivable delay. That will open the door for VR and AR applications, too, in real-time forms.
The capacity is an important factor too. With the Internet of Things becoming more and more important over time – where gadgets and objects employ smart, connected features that they have never had before – the strain on bandwidth will continue to grow. That's why 5G is needed, to provide millions of new connections to internet-connected tech
The Internet of Things: The device explosion
By the year 2020, it is predicted by analysts that each person in the UK will own and use 27 internet-connected devices. There will be 50 billion connected devices worldwide. These can range from existing technology, such as smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, to fridges, cars, augmented reality specs and even smart clothes.
Some of these will require significant data to be shifted back and forth, while others might just need tiny packets of information sent and received. The 5G system itself will understand and recognise this and allocate bandwidth respectively, thereby not putting unnecessary strain on individual connection points.
As part of a "heterogeneous network", the points, or cells, will be used for LTE-A and the technology will be increased and refined to adapt to 5G too. Cells will automatically talk to each device to provide the best and most efficient service no matter where the user is.
Larger cells will be used in the same way as they are now, with broad coverage, but urban areas, for example, will also be covered by multiple smaller cells, fitted in lampposts, on the roofs of shops and homes, and even inside bricks in new buildings. Each of these will ensure that the connection will be regulated and seemingly standard across the board.
Algorithms will even know how fast a device is travelling, so can adapt to which cell it is connected. For example, a connected car might require connection to a macro-cell, such as a large network mast, in order to maintain its connection without having to re-establish continuously over distance, while a person's smartphone can connect to smaller cells with less area coverage as the next cell can be picked up easily and automatically in enough time to prevent the user noticing.
4K video streaming
Capacity will also be important for the future of video streaming. By 2030, EE predicts that 76 per cent of its data traffic will be used streaming video. And the majority of that will be 4K Ultra HD or even 8K resolutions.
The data rates of 4G can cope with that – it is expected that a 14Mbps connection should cope with streaming 4K video, 18Mbps for 8K – but if everybody was to do that at the same time, like statistics suggest, the network would have difficulty keeping up with demand.
Other, non-consumer sectors will also be served better with 5G, but as EE itself admits, some of the applications of a low-latency, high capacity network are yet to even be thought of. You kind-of need the technology in place to figure out much of what to do with it.
And finally, another major benefit to 5G technology is that standards and which spectrum bands will be reserved for its deployment will have been agreed globally. Your 5G phone in the UK, for example, will work on the exact same system and spectrum band as in the US, South Korea and wherever else.
Well, that's the idea anyway.
What do I need to get 5G?
In order to connect to 5G networks, you'll need the correct hardware. Just like at the moment, you need a phone that supports 4G in order to connect to 4G networks. These will start to roll out in 2019.
The phone, tablet or any other device you use will need to have the right chipset inside, and Qualcomm has come up with the first commercial mobile 5G modem, known as the X50 and set to appear in phones from 2019. The 5G Moto Mod for the Moto Z3 will be the first, exclusively on Verizon in the US.
Qualcomm says the new chip will be capable of download speeds up to 5Gbps, 400 times faster than the current average 4G download speeds. Qualcomm looks like the leader currently, but things can change - especially when networks and handsets are still some way off.
It's an interesting aside that Apple and Qualcomm are currently fighting, but Samsung and Intel are also heavily involved with 5G testing and hardware. Samsung has been working with US network Verizon on trials and the two are partnering on 5G tech for a commercial launch.
Intel has also been experimenting with 5G at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.
What about 6G?
Whoa there! "If we get 5G right, there won't be a 6G," said Professor Sutton during Pocket-lint's lesson on the technology.
The idea is that if the correct infrastructure is put in place, unlike when 1G, 2G and 3G were devised, it will be based on a flexible system that can be upgraded rather than requiring replacement.
In years past, mobile data technologies were built around hardware, while 5G will be software driven. Software can be updated easily, hardware less so.
The future is bright. And lightning fast.