The fifth generation of mobile data networks has been anticipated like no other before it.
When 3G launched in 2003, it attracted little interest – and few people noticed earlier this year when its pioneer Three (no coincidence) announced it was dropping 3G entirely.
That’s because everyone was squinting at their smartphones, cursing the slow loading times of today’s 4G networks.
In fifteen years, mobile data has gone from being an occasional sideshow to a staple of daily life.
As a result, the 4G network is struggling to cope – and frustrated consumers are eagerly awaiting 5G’s rollout in 2020.
But what can we expect from the fifth generation mobile network?
High speed data
As yet, we don’t know how much quicker 5G will be compared to 4G, though “up to 100 times” is a commonly-used phrase among developers and engineers.
A standard 4G network is capable of peak download speeds of 100Mbps, taking just over seven minutes to download a full HD movie.
By comparison, 5G networks would run at between one and ten Gbps, meaning the same movie file ought to download within four to 40 seconds.
By the time mass adoption has taken place, and everyone’s listening to lossless streaming audio playlists, it’ll probably be closer to 40 seconds than four.
Even so, the slowest 5G connection promises to be over ten times faster than the best 4G connection.
And that’s before operators start using high-frequency bandwidth…
How will the data be distributed?
Mobile companies have already spent in excess of £1.3 billion on 5G spectrum auctions, with frequencies currently ranging between 700MHz and 3.8GHz.
However, it’s anticipated future bandwidth might extend up to 26GHz, or even beyond.
Higher frequencies distribute data more quickly, and experience less interference from other communications protocols, but cover shorter distances.
Today’s cell towers will be therefore joined by smaller local antennae known as MIMO, ensuring a mobile handset (or Internet of Things-enabled device) is always connected.
It’s anticipated a 5G network could support a thousand more devices per square metre than 4G.
Of course, we won’t know the specifics of how everything works until the first mobile operator launches a 5G network, and consumers start acquiring 5G-ready handsets.
Nonetheless, high-frequency connection speeds would even leave today’s fibre broadband connections trailing in their wake.
It might also spell the end for public WiFi networks.
Don’t be latency
Another benefit of 5G networks is the effective elimination of latency – the delay between requesting an action online and seeing the results.
Delays of over 50 milliseconds (a quarter of the time it takes us to blink) can spoil online gaming, or create a lack of synchronicity between video and audio data streams.
While latency is affected by everything from malware to traffic loads, the biggest obstacle is sluggish network infrastructure.
Since 5G is intended to form the basis for self-driving vehicles and remotely-operated robotic surgical tools (among other innovations), latency must be eliminated wherever possible.
Scientists estimate latency could drop by 98 per cent, compared to current 4G networks.