A friend of mine recently received an updated Sim for her phone and it carried on it a 5G ready symbol. “What exactly is 5G?” She asked me, “is it much better than 4G?” It’s a good question and one I get asked from time-to-time from a business point of view. So, how significant will the change from 4G to 5G be and when will it happen.

Well, don’t get too excited yet. When Apple or Samsung launch their latest flagship versions with much fanfare and hype, they too signify this by simply increasing the number. Going from an iPhone 6 to a 7 immediately prompts a certain percentage of the population to get very excited and form queues outside Apple stores to grab one. Samsung can’t wait to launch its version 8 Note to banish memories of its combustible 7. However, in reality this steady stream of new versions is often as much a marketing tool to sell new phones than a sea-change in technical performance or capability.

Unlike phones, whilst the number progression in mobile networks is slow, the technological advances are steep. Here the G stands for generation of the mobile network, and each number before the G denotes more power to send out and receive more information. In the U.K. you have to go back to 1984 when the first 1G network was officially launched, 2G was commercially deployed in 1994, 3G appeared in 2003 and 4G started back around 2012.

Now, in basic terms and putting the different frequency bands mobile networks have purchased to one side, if you go from using 3G (H+) to a 4G symbol on your device with your mobile network provider, the time it takes to load a web page, send an email or anything that requires your data connection will be quicker. The original 3G had to reach a certain technical standard and the 4G standard is considerably quicker.

5G promises even more speed, in fact so fast that it might offer the same capacity as fibre optics. Additionally, it might allow for greater multi-device connectivity, lower battery use and pull in new uses like the rise of ‘The internet of things’.

So when will it arrive? Boris Johnson as London Mayor predicted 2020. Although that already sounds optimistic. The Government last year did put money into the development of this standard, which is a good sign.

But let’s not get carried away. The reason all of this sounds a bit up-in-the-air is because it is. 5G is just a proposal for the next generation and there is still plenty of research work to be done because a standard has yet to be agreed.

For all potential advantages 5G might offer, the most compelling is accessibility. One of the key requirements the body leading the development, Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance requires, is better coverage. As a telecoms provider I know how business critical this can be and we are very careful in assessing each customer’s needs with the potential coverage they will receive via different carriers. We know how patchy 3 & 4G can be. In fact, the government watchdog NIC found that Britain sits 54th in the world in terms of 4G coverage. With our client Bristol Airport, for example, we use three carriers because the topology of their site dictates this. With this multi network approach the client gets the reliable coverage they need, but all delivered through one customer service team.

So, the answer is I’m sure it will be a big improvement but you won’t be needing that 5G sim quite yet…I’m guessing it will be ready for around the iPhone 12!

Mark Burland

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