5G has been tantalizing us with vastly increased speeds, a lower latency rate and the bandwidth necessary to cope with mass uptake of the IoT for what seems like forever. So when will we finally see this leap forward in wireless network technology?
Agreements Move Things Forward
One of the factors that has slowed 5G development is that all the key players need to be in agreement on how the technology will be delivered before things can progress.
5G made significant headway in June when the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (the standards body for wireless connectivity) approved the specifications for standalone (SA) 5G. This follows the meeting in Lisbon in December 2017 when the 3GPP set specifications for non-standalone (NSA) 5G.
The finalization of these specifications marks another essential development in standardizing the technology and brings the industry closer towards commercial roll-out of 5G.
Development and Testing of 5G Moves Up a Gear
5G wireless network technology is already being tested by several companies, including Verizon and AT&T. UK mobile operator EE has activated what it claims is the country’s first 5G trial network, with plans to launch a commercial 5G network at some point next year. Vodafone announced seven large UK cities where it will start trialing 5G between October and December this year. Sprint is planning to deploy 5G in nine US cities in the first quarter of 2019 but has warned that if a planned merger with T-Mobile US doesn’t go ahead then they won’t be expanding outside urban areas.
As for device development, several phone manufacturers have announced they’re working with chip manufacturer Qualcomm to bring out 5G ready devices in 2019. Motorola have already released the first 5G phone – well, sort of. The Moto Z3 was launched in August. It’s technically a 4G phone with the ability to be upgraded to 5G with an accessory called a Moto Mod which will be released in 2019, with the cost as yet unspecified. LG announced that it plans to make the first true 5G phone, with 5G connectivity fully integrated from the start.
5G will begin to be available in 2019 but you will only have access to this wireless network technology in certain locations. So you might well have a 5G capable phone but no 5G network. Currently, AT&T is planning to introduce 5G in 12 US cities, although only in certain areas of these cities and it’s the same story with Vodafone in the UK. So even if you live in a city with 5G there is no guarantee that it will be available where you live, work or like to spend your free time.
High-Frequency Bandwidth Brings Obstacles as Well as Opportunities
One of the key features of 5G for the IoT and M2M communication is its use of high-frequency millimeter-wave spectrum. There is far more available bandwidth at higher frequencies, allowing more devices to be connected. This is crucial for the successful mass adoption of the IoT and the possibilities it brings for smart cities, autonomous cars, and M2M communication.
However, one of the issues with high-frequency signals is that they struggle to penetrate solid material. This means that, unlike previous wireless network technology, which relied on a smaller number of large masts, 5G is likely to require a dense network of antennae. This means there’s more to install and more agreements to be made regarding where the equipment is located.
There are also public health issues which could slow things down with some scientists expressing concern about the unknown effects. While there is yet to be any compelling evidence to suggest health risks from this technology if there is public concern it may cause governments to slow down the implementation of 5G. In fact, a city close to San Francisco recently voted to ban 5G cellular towers, claiming that they pose a significant threat to public health. If suspicion of 5G increases then it could slow down implementation of this new network technology.
When Can We Expect 5G to Arrive?
When? When, when, when, when, when?
Exciting (and complex) advances are often delayed and can move frustratingly slowly. Even so, 5G is now tantalizingly close. So far 2018 has seen the development of devices and the transition to 5G begin in earnest.
It will be a few years before 5G reaches the public en masse and even longer before radical ideas using this technology are developed. People will need time to explore the possibilities and limitations of the technology. It might be 10 years or longer before we see the kinds of revolutionary ideas that will change the way we live.