What is 5G?
If you’re in the UK, you’re probably using a mobile phone with 4G internet – or 3G, if you’re in the sticks. Simply put, 5G is the name for the next big leap in mobile connectivity. More formally, the standard will be called 5G NR (Near Radio). This is just the way that the Long-Term Evolution Advanced (LTE-A) standard is now marketed as 4G.
Currently, numerous phone networks, device suppliers and governments around the world are hard at work trying to figure out a good way to deliver next-generation mobile internet.
In fact, analysts at IHS Markit believe that 5G will have created $12 trillion USD worth of value across global industry – that’s equivalent to consumer spending in the USA in 2016.
“We think that 5G will have an impact far beyond [3G],” said Ben Timmons, Senior Director, Business Development of Qualcomm Europe. “It’s not going to be about personal communication anymore. It’s much more of a transformational technology that will have a huge impact on an enormous range of industries.”
Qualcomm is one of the main players in the development and deployment of the technology. Its successor to the new-gen SoC will come fitted with the 5G-capable X50 modem; the American semiconductor giant having already successfully completed pre-commercial 5G trials.
How fast is 5G?
Unfortunately, no one actually knows the answer to that question – because 5G doesn’t technically exist yet.
Plenty of organisations are already testing 5G delivery methods. Samsung says it’s managed to achieve 7.5Gbps, while Nokia claims a more impressive 10Gbps. There’s also Huawei, which has managed 3.6Gbps.
When you compare that to the best speeds in the UK – EE’s 300Mbps LTE-A network – then we could be talking about a 12-fold speed increase. Of course, the delivery of these speeds could quite easily be scuppered by the problems of old: thick walls, living in hyper-rural areas, and other issues that are likely to hamper signal.
Also, delivery isn’t the only factor here. Your phone has to be able to support such speeds. Every smartphone has a built-in modem that allows the handset to connect to mobile networks. If your modem can’t handle such blisteringly fast speeds, then you’re stuck.
One of the world’s leading chipmakers, Qualcomm, supplies to phone giants such as Samsung, LG and Apple. Qualcomm describes this modem as an “essential pillar” for the rollout of 5G, thanks to the rapid download speeds it supports.
For example, the Snapdragon X20 offers LTE Cat 18 speeds of 1.2Gbps. That’s equal to 0.15GB of data, or 150MB. The BBC says that, on average, a 60-minute programme downloaded in high quality (1500kbps encoding) takes up about 630MB of space. So with a 1.2Gbps download speed, you’d expect to download that show in just over four seconds.
What about the even newer ? It promises Cat 20 speeds of 2Gbps. The company calls this a ‘stepping stone’ to true 5G deployment, expected to start in 2019, and is a precursor to the aforementioned 5G modem.