The development of 5G has been followed more closely than any of its predecessors, and there’s genuine excitement about the prospect of its arrival in the UK.
Over the last ten years, mobile internet access has gone from being an occasional luxury to an essential aspect of modern life.
We’ve become heavily reliant on 4G bandwidth that was never intended to provide blanket coverage, or broadband-quality upload/download speeds.
Years of intensive development should ensure 5G eliminates its predecessor’s problems of signal drop-out and sluggish data transfer.
The 5G network is intended to power everything from self-driving cars to remote medical procedures, so it’s been designed to banish any prospect of blackspots or downtime.
Conventional cell towers will be augmented by smaller transmitters, hidden inside lampposts and roof spaces to bolster network signal strength.
But ensuring 5G is always accessible will involve extensive testing around the world.
What’s so significant about October?
You’ve probably heard 5G trials took place inside (and outside) certain stadiums at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Local tests of new technology are entirely normal before any phased roll-out begins, but Russia isn’t the only country where this is occurring.
The debut of 5G in the UK also takes place later this year, in Shoreditch’s Tech City startup hub.
As the home of hipsters and technology firms, Shoreditch is an ideal testing ground for 5G hardware, which will be lent to small businesses and family homes by mobile operator EE.
Although these networks will be domestic in size and scale, they’ll identify real-world limitations in hardware that’s only been tested in laboratories til now.
(After all, theoretical scenarios can’t prepare engineers and scientists for the unpredictability of human behaviour.)
EE is hoping to launch its 5G network next year, even though its competitors aren’t expected to debut their own networks until 2020.
An auction for 5G spectrum bandwidth was held by Ofcom in April, at which EE purchased 40 of the available 150MHz of capacity.
The remaining 110MHz was divided between O2, Three and Vodafone, and these companies also bought extra 4G bandwidth to alleviate pressure on existing mobile networks.
Other tests and trials
Shoreditch isn’t the only venue identified for testing 5G in the UK.
The UK Government recently appointed six organisations to conduct small-scale tests, ranging from IT specialists Cisco to Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership.
Each organisation received a seven-figure grant to develop a fully-functional 5G environment, suitable for corporate and consumer use alike.
The Government favoured bidders with an interest in 5G-specific technology, like smart farming or autonomous vehicles.
After all, 5G isn’t about getting your Instagram feed to load in record time, or checking football scores in the Brecon Beacons.
The next generation of mobile connectivity is expected to underpin the burgeoning Internet of Things, and spearhead mass automation.
October’s Shoreditch trial should clarify whether reality will live up to our expectations in terms of 5G in the UK.