5 things you need to know about 5G
1. Who is doing 5G?
5G for mobile broadband is being rolled-out by private mobile network operators EE, O2, Vodafone and Three. The first commercial networks went live in major UK cities in 2019, but on a fairly small scale. The Government has a target that the majority of the population will be covered by a 5G signal by 2027.
2. 5G is not about phone signals
Unlike 4G, which meant an upgrade in the data capacity of mobile phones, 5G is about WiFi and access to fast internet connections with large bandwidths (e.g. high data capacity). The technology will require new radio spectrum frequencies and new mobile base stations, although the first 5G base stations will be upgraded mobile stations. Because the signal is weak, it may also require lots more small local booster cells in areas with high demand.
3. 5G will be slow and complicated to install
Not only is the 5G signal relatively weak, meaning you need more base stations, it will also require extra base stations inside buildings (because the signal has difficulty getting through windows and walls) and close to buildings (mounted on street furniture, for instance). This means lots of individual interventions, each with the potential to get complicated. It also needs full-fibre broadband to be working (because the base station has to be connected to the Internet). This requires significant investment.
4. Big Cities come first
London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester will be the first to get faster 5G mobile networks. By the end of 2019, another 10 cities got EE networks, which could transmit data at speeds faster than 10 Gigabits per second. These were Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.
5. Watch out for 26 Gigahertz
Why should you watch out for 26GHz? Because this is the highest frequency 5G spectrum and will provide the really serious connectivity. When you hear this being quoted as available, you’ll know the 5G system is cooking. For now, Ofcom is predominantly working on the lower frequency end of the spectrum (700 MHz, meaning the 26GHz service will be about 37 times faster). Mid-frequency services will operate a 3.4-3.8 GHz. Trial licences are already available in the 26GHz band.