What is 5G? It is a persistent question, but simply put it’s the next generation of mobile connectivity and it’s already here.
In the UK Vodafone and EE have both activated their networks, having spent years building and upgrading masts and cell towers across the country.
When customers start to use 5G on their devices they should expect to get download speeds that are 5-10 times faster than the currently used 4G networks and will enable ultra low-latency connections.
What is 5G? Physically, it has mixed characteristics…
What is 5G?
Currently the mobile networks use radio frequencies up to 30 GHz.
This has resulted in a congested frequency range, which has led to a loss of efficiency in carrying data across the used spectrums.
Due to the congestion data rates are restricted to less than 1 Gigabit per second on the microwave wavelengths. However, operating within the millimetre spectrum data rates can reach 10 Gigabits per second or even higher.
Millimetre wave or extremely high frequency waves used in 5G span frequency ranges from 30 to 300 GHz.
As McKinsey notes, many elements of current 5G technology build on 4G networks, rather than representing a complete departure.
That means operators can upgrade the capacity of their existing 4G macro network by “refarming a portion of their 2G and 3G spectrum, or by acquiring additional spectrum when available. This way, they can delay [infrastructure] investments in 5G by evolving to LTE-and LTE-Pro features, such as 4×4 or massive MIMO.”
Massive MIMO, short for multiple input-multiple output, is central to 5G. Each Massive MIMO antenna has its own radio frequency and digital baseband (a very narrow and near-zero frequency range) chain. In essence, the more antennas the transmitter/receiver is equipped with, the more the possible signal paths and the better the performance in terms of data rate and link reliability.
As Ofcom report puts it: “Massive MIMO is expected to become an essential 5G technology. It will greatly increase the network capacity by locating tens (or even more than a hundred) small antennae at the Base Station, which will form multiple signal beams directed at the devices connected to it.”
See also: What is Massive MIMO?
A major challenge to millimetre wave technology has been its poor performance at travelling distance.
It requires a direct line of sight from antenna to device, as trees and buildings can block the signal. Atmospheric absorption is another concern as the signal can be scattered by falling rain. This means that more towers have to be establish to ensure full coverage, which ahs been one of the key infrastructure challenges in rolling out 5G networks.
The rollout will be slow at first as currently only urban space such as London, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Manchester have 5G services enabled by EE and Vodafone. Of course to get in on the 5G hype train you will have to have a smart devices that contains a 5G modem. Some do exist such as the Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G or the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, but Apple users will have to wait till 2020 before they can experience the faster speeds of 5G networks.