Like an interrupted preview of a future we barely understand, the UK’s rollout of 5G has so far failed to live up to the hyperbole.
With only a sliver of the 3.4GHz frequency band released thus far, some UK 5G networks are slower than the 4G networks they’ll eventually supplant.
Even Ofcom’s much-delayed auction of the 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz bands won’t make a huge difference, as 5G will only come into its own once it operates across far wider frequencies.
At that point, we can expect transformative things from a cellular network which promises always-on connectivity and negligible latency.
(For the uninitiated, latency is the delay between an instruction being issued by a user device and a response being received from a host server or network).
These five future uses of 5G could see the world becoming a markedly different place from its current incarnation – once mobile networks are performing to their full potential…
1. Autonomous vehicles
There are five levels of vehicular automation, from level 1’s adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance to level 5, when the car navigates itself without any human input.
Level 4 vehicles are already being tested with no human interaction other than a failsafe presence, but the final stage will require vehicles to communicate with each other across 5G.
Omnidirectional messaging will ensure vehicles are constantly aware of each other, effectively eliminating any risk of collisions, junction ambiguities or parking problems.
2. Home working
Aren’t we already working from home, you cry? Well, some of us are. But 5G mobile broadband deals could enable many more jobs to be completed remotely than sluggish WiFi and 4G can support.
Reducing latency to two milliseconds could allow surgeons to conduct keyhole surgery using remote robotics, and enable offsite supervisors to scrutinise production lines in real time.
Achievable data transfer speeds may even eliminate the need for central servers, enabling one employee’s device to directly share files with others – cutting out the IT middlemen.
3. The truly smart home
These five future uses of 5G all rely on its always-on connectivity, and this could power an army of smart gadgets and electronics currently dependent on the congested WiFi network.
The convergence of formerly passive offline devices is part of the fourth industrial revolution, linking almost every electronic device into a remotely controllable network.
It’s also worth noting 5G might effectively eliminate the need for home broadband, with one ultra-fast wireless network inside and outside the home.
4. Real-time services
Any list of five future uses of 5G must acknowledge algorithm-powered services like translation and facial recognition, which could happen so quickly end users barely notice.
Imagine being able to pass through an airport without showing passports or boarding passes, or talking to someone in a foreign language with live translation happening in real time.
The 5G network will support augmented reality – displaying restaurant menus as you point a smartphone camera at signage, or 3D navigation maps overlaid on your current environment.
5. Superior gaming experiences
The $135 billion gaming industry will be transformed by the effective elimination of latency, which has been the curse of many an online gaming experience.
This could finally usher in VR, eliminating the motion sickness caused by delays between instructions being issued and a response displaying inside a headset.
Even basic devices will be able to deliver lag-free gameplay, allowing subscribers to access games on whichever device they’re currently using.