What is 5G technology?

From tracking cows in the UK to being able to download a movie within seconds, the next generation of wireless technology is on its way.

5G will become more prevalent in the coming years. Image credit: PeopleImages/iStock
5G will become more prevalent in the coming years. Image credit: PeopleImages/iStock

With South Korea claiming to have become the first country to adopt 5G earlier this year (although U.S network Verizon disputes this), it’s expected phones compatible with the 5G network will become more prevalent by 2020. So what exactly is it, how is it different from anything else that’s already out there, and how will affect industry?

What is it?

5G stands for the Fifth Generation of mobile communications, developed from previous mobile networks. The “G” systems were initially created to improve mobile telecommunications, providing faster speeds and greater network capacity.

Networks on 5G are expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G, which means much faster communication between devices, according to Steve Healds, managing director of business at A1 Comms, a business-to-business communications provider in the UK with a range of national networks such as EE, 3, O2, and Vodafone behind them.

Where 4G connections are capable of reaching download speeds of around 20Mbps (enough to download a HD film in roughly 30 minutes), 5G is expected to theoretically top out at around 500-1500Mbps (fast enough to download the same movie in just seconds).

“Our technology needs to keep up and 5G technology is very different to anything we have previously known,” Healds said.

See what 5G will mean for you. Image credit: Halfpoint/iStock
See what 5G will mean for you. Image credit: Halfpoint/iStock

What’s the advantage for everyday users?

For everyday use, 5G technology increases the amount of bandwidth space available for people using data to browse the internet. In a nutshell, this means faster devices and downloads, and rapid connection.

5G also promises to significantly reduce latency, which means speedier load times and improved responsiveness when online.

When will it arrive?

2019 will see approximately 25 operators around the world launch 5G services in at least part of their territory (usually cities). A further 26 operators are expected to launch (with the focus on cities again) in 2020.

Healds said US mobile carrier Verizon planned to launch its own 5G service to claim the world’s first 5G title earlier this year, but were beaten to the punch by three South Korean carriers (SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus).

“Though these countries have launched 5G, it does not mean that 5G is readily available,” Healds said.

“At this time, only a handful of celebrities have got to experience the benefits of 5G in South Korea and it is only compatible with one smartphone in the U.S. in regions such as Chicago and Minneapolis.”

How can it be applied?

While 5G mobile service will be rolled out in some parts of the world this year and many more in 2020, some 5G technology is already up-and-running. Farmers, for example, are already benefiting from 5G technology in their farming processes. Drones compatible with 5G are also helping to improve potato production in the Netherlands, while in Japan, 5G sensors are being used to monitor the water temperature and salt concentration of oyster farms.

Meanwhile, UK initiative 5G RuralFirst launched a smartphone app earlier this year called Me+Moo, which assists farmers in keeping track of the health of their herd. 5G-connected collars attached to the “connected cow” send regular updates on the animal’s health and behavior, making it easier for farmers to monitor their livestock via the 5G network. The system is currently being tested on cows at the Agri-Epi Center in Somerset, England, and is funded in part by a UK government grant and supported by tech company Cisco Systems Inc.

Farmers can use the 5G technology to get instant updates on their cattle. Image credit: Frizi/iStock
Farmers can use the 5G technology to get instant updates on their cattle. Image credit: Frizi/iStock

Healds said in terms of healthcare, the technology could improve access to health records and transform the remote consultation experience.

“This would allow patients to communicate with healthcare professionals easily and quickly, resulting in faster treatment for more people,” he said.

“For businesses, a faster and more efficient network translates into faster, more efficient sales via the use of technology that relies on network, such as mobile point of sale systems.”

Are there any disadvantages?

While 5G is predicted to make networks more reliable and faster, early reports on 5G network testing suggest it will operate at around the range of 6Ghz, a frequency used by TV trucks and police helicopters, which could make this particular radio frequency overcrowded and thereby slow the service down. Healds said skilled engineers will be needed to help problem-solve issues as they arrive.

Scientists have also raised health concerns associated with electromagnetic field (EMF) radio waves generated by “electric and wireless devices”, including broadcast antennas, cellular and cordless phones, and their base stations.

The World Health Organization’s International EMF Project, which assesses the health and environmental effects of electric and magnetic field exposure, argued “no major public health risks have emerged from several decades of EMF research”, but conceded that “uncertainties remain”.


James Massoud

James Massoud is an experienced, London-based food and travel writer regularly contributing to luxury lifestyle magazines such as 7* Life and the Kensington & Chelsea Review.