Humans have been able to send information at distance to one another for quite a while now, and we’ve actually become pretty good at it. What started out as primitive shouting across the treetops moved swiftly on to smoke signals, to the humble homing pigeon and then even louder shouting, which is still used today. Thankfully, progress in modern electronics allowed us to take things to the next level.
5G is the next generation of mobile connectivity, following on from its predecessor 4G which is currently used by billions of smartphones across the globe. You may have seen the hype for this new technology online and in the press after it was discussed at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, and the excitement is certainly justified.
Although it’s only one generation up, the jump in network speed is truly staggering, with 5G reported to be able to reach speeds of ten gigabits per second, one hundred times faster than its predecessor. To put this into perspective, downloading a two-hour movie on 4G would take roughly six minutes, whereas it’s only 3.6 seconds on 5G. However, this ought to be taken with a pinch of salt as we know all too well it’s not uncommon for network speeds to deliver less than advertised…
Okay, so mobile networks will be getting faster, is that it? Well kind of, but there’s more to it than that. 5G will allow for advances in other areas of technology that rely, or will rely, on wireless connections as the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices grows. Imagine a world where not just people but all things are connected: self-driving cars on smart roads, the traffic signals they follow, all the way to smart bulbs, plugs and other home devices. This level of connectivity requires a huge increase in network speeds and reliability which is just what 5G is designed to provide.
One of the most notable and important features the 5G will offer is incredibly low latency. As the next generation will operate at much higher frequencies (which also allows for faster data transfer rates), there is less time between each packet of information sent and received — digital interactions will be near real-time at rates between 1 and 4 milliseconds.
This opens the door for new and emerging technologies like cloud and mobile gaming, namely Google’s Stadia, the cloud-based gaming platform revealed at GDC in March this year. As all the processing power is done by remote servers, low network latency is essential for making cloud gaming on mobile devices competitive and, more so, enjoyable.
5G’s benefits of low latency and high data transfer rates bleed into the world of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) too. Like with cloud gaming, the heavy lifting is done remotely and will allow device builds to become more discreet, smaller and wireless to provide greater cloud-connected experiences.
The arrival of 5G will push the processing power and move consumption away from the PC and into the cloud. This means users can experience VR from anywhere and require only a headset, nothing more. It offers fantastic flexibility in the worlds of work and play. Meetings can still take place face-to-face over a coffee, except you’ll be thousands of miles apart, sitting across from an empty chair where your contact sits projected onto glass in AR. Additionally, future video formats will be much more data-intensive. Video with six degrees of freedom, in which viewers can move around and ‘interact’ with the scene, will require an extremely high bitrate of up to ten times that required for 4K video.
The introduction of 5G’s capabilities into our society is going to be a real game-changer, and I believe it’s for the better. Sure, greater connectivity means quicker Boomerang uploads and more reliable network coverage, but it also opens the door to a world of greater interactivity, product innovation and technological wonder.