What is 5G and how is it any different to 4G?
Our newest member to the Umbrella team, Samantha Harland, has been taking a deep dive into 5G and has out together a great blog post on what 5G actually is and how it can impact Immersive industry. Some of you might know that Brighton currently has one 5G test bed – if you want to find out more information about this click here.
Promising speeds that are 1000 times faster than current 4G networks, 5G is the next advancement (aka the fifth generation) in mobile network technology.
According to the Digital Catapult’s ‘5G Nation Report’ published last year, 5G will:
- Provide ultra-fast speeds – a minimum of 10Gb download speeds compared with 20Mbps on 4G
- Reduce network delays (low latency) – 1ms delays which is 50x less than on 4G
- Increase transfer capabilities & capacity (ultra-high bandwidth) – more things connected at the same time on the same network
- Increase reliability – improved coverage (eventually), less network dropout / low signal
- Increase security – a more secure network
Unlike previous generations of mobile network (2G, 3G & 4G), 5G is unlikely to be defined by a single technology, instead it will bring together existing and future network standards and will even allow for something called ‘network slicing’ which is where virtual networks can be created and customised for specific needs.
What this means in terms of the usual suspects of network providers we are still unsure but it does have the potential to allow for smaller, more niche providers to get a ‘slice’ of the market which could in turn increase competition, forcing mobile price plans down.
So how does 5G work?
Currently with 4G all our devices operate on a radio frequency spectrum from 2-6Ghz, if you imagine this spectrum as a box with a certain capacity then the more devices that get added to this box the more congested it becomes and this ultimately reduces speed. In order to overcome this and expand the ‘box’ 5G works on ‘Millimeter waves that have a frequency of 30-300Ghz which provides us with much more space and the ability to add more things to the network.
Millimeter waves sound great but they only cover short distances as they have shorter wavelengths and are unable to penetrate buildings, trees and mountains. This is where the term ‘small cells’ and base stations come in. Instead of relying solely on the high antenas we currently use to transmit 4G around the county, 5G will be transmitted using much lower antennas but there will be a lot more of them meaning the signal can be directed around objects like trees that could cause interference.
Where will 5G take us?
5G allows more things to be connected to each other as there is more bandwidth capacity than 4G, add in the superfast speed and a whole new world of possibilities opens up. Imagine super fast downloads of movies and files, not having to charge your phone everyday (5G devices of the future may only need charging every 4 weeks), self driving cars that connect to the road they are driving on, more advanced robotic surgery in hospitals, advanced artificial intelligence that can help boost your productivity, retail environments that offer technologically interactive shopping experiences. In a world with super fast data at our fingertips will there even be a need for Wifi plans? Maybe we will see the emergence of 5G enabled laptops meaning tethering our phones to them will become a thing of the past.
How will 5G impact immersive?
Another exciting area 5G will have an impact on is Immersive Technologies (VR, AR and mixed reality). A reliable 5G connection will help immersive experiences advance to the next level by enabling the majority of the computational power they require to be offloaded to the cloud. This means headsets and devices will become more mobile and more mobile as they wont have be connected to a computer or network cable. Immersion is also reliant on having a seamless experience so laggy or jerky connections that we can sometimes have today with VR and AR will hopefully become a thing of the past with 5G. As 5G enables more devices to be connected at the same time we should also see more multi user experiences, haptic feedback and the ability to control devices at a distance.
With some of the current barriers removed and the ability to run an immersive experience anywhere we may see an increase in the adoption of immersive technologies by sectors that previously considered the tech too cumbersome or not fit for purpose and an increase of use cases from sectors that already use the technology. According to the VR/AR association the retail industry alone already spends $1 billion on immersive solutions meaning 5G could have huge potential to change both eCommerce and in store shopping experiences.
What are the challenges?
It all sounds very exciting but what are some of the challenges are barriers to the new world of 5G connectivity?
- 5G networks are limited in range – 5G millimeter waves can carry more data but are limited in how far they can travel and can be blocked by trees and buildings. This means we will need a lot more smaller cell towers dotter around to overcome this which won’t be a quick and easy task.
- Not all cities will adopt 5G straight away – While the benefits of 5G are obvious some people still have serious concerns regarding the health implications of the technology due to the new millimeter radio waves so not all cities will be on board right away, meaning a potentially patchy service as you travel around the UK.
- Testing 5G may take a while – Like any new technology 5G requires extensive testing both by network providers, phone manufacturers and businesses. Testing has been happening for a number of years now with Digital Catapult more recently providing a testbed for SMEs to test use cases in an indoor testbed in Brighton. However it’s uncertain how long all this testing will take.
- Not all phones are 5G enabled – It’s a chicken and egg scenario but most phones aren’t yet made to be compatible with 5G and some people won’t want to upgrade for the extra cost.
In conclusion, despite some of these barriers causing a delay to when we will actually get 5G in our hands the possibilities that it promises of faster and more efficient connectivity can’t be ignored especially when it comes to the Immersive Tech Market.