Graphic illustrating 5G waves

gearing up for 5g

By Jennifer Baird

A common thread running through this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has been our increased use of and reliance on new technology, for working, learning and socialising.

Digital technologies such as video calling have been a saving grace for those trying to work from home, study or keep in touch with loved ones during lockdown. Conferences and festivals have moved online, and tourist attractions have made their content available for people to explore at home.

We have all had to adapt quickly to this new way of living and working, but being forced to suddenly embrace smart technologies may be no bad thing. It’s preparing us for something even more powerful on the horizon, 5G, a massive breakthrough that will revolutionise the experience of all of us.

What is 5G?
5G is the newest and most advanced global wireless technology standard. It uses ultra-high-frequency radio waves to increase the speed of connection and will allow communications up to 250 times faster than its predecessor 4G and be far more reliable.

Muhammad Imran, Professor of Communications Systems at Glasgow, is clear about the benefits that 5G will bring. “Connectivity is vital at the present time,” he says, “and 5G will take that one step further in future. It has immense potential, for example, to extend the connectivity from human-to-human to human-to-machines and machine-to-machine. It will also transform many aspects of our lives such as education, healthcare, shopping, governance and security.” 

What can we expect?
With an exponential increase in upload and download speeds, 5G will vastly improve our online experience and phone communications. Latency, the small but perceptible delay when we click, speak or listen, will be virtually eradicated, allowing instantaneous online conversation, web browsing and gaming. Remote surgery will be made possible and driverless cars with vehicle-to-vehicle safety communications will become commonplace, allowing accidents to be predicted and avoided. Immersive virtual reality experiences will allow a user to feel physically present in a digitally created environment. It’s the first time, in short, that “the network will be faster than your mind,” according to mobile communications strategist Ulf Ewaldsson.

5G also has major implications for the improvement of healthcare diagnostics and monitoring. For example, doctors will be able to check remotely whether their patients are taking medication correctly. It will be the driving force behind the “Internet of Things”, which is the connection of many different smart devices and sensors to the internet such as streetlights, doorbells, fridges, vending machines and central heating systems. The greater capacity of 5G means that many thousands of these devices will be able to transmit and receive data simultaneously, even within a small area, making our cities smarter.

The excitement generated by the advent of 5G means that many are becoming impatient for its rollout. In the UK and worldwide, 5G coverage has so far become a reality for a limited few, in major urban areas, and others around the world are still keenly awaiting its arrival as city infrastructure is changed to accommodate it. This will take a few more years, but ultra-fast and highly reliable communications will soon be a way of life for billions.

“Since 5G will be so critical to our future lives,” says Professor Imran, “it is essential that we ensure digital inclusiveness for all. Rich and poor, urban and rural. This will reduce the digital divide, create opportunities and ensure that a level playing field is created for all citizens.”

This article was first published June 2020.