5G: Tantalisingly near… and yet so far

Ricky Shock, Mobile Product Manager

Over the last few months, and certainly more so since Vodafone’s 5G launch in early July, there have been floods of blogs and articles offering hype, excitement and promise around the innovation and change that is available right at your fingertips. Only it’s not, not quite yet anyway.

Only a small handful of pieces have attempted to highlight the current situation clearly, and of those that I have read, I’ve noticed they seem do so in an almost pessimistic way. It’s as if their aim is to completely derail the 5G “hype train” as opposed to simply offer the reader a fair alternative to the current, all-singing, all-dancing, industry narrative. An alternative that would instead slow down the train, and offer a more realistic view of the scenery outside the window.

Admittedly, if you are on a 5G supported network, and currently residing or working in one of the few major cities around the UK that now have the infrastructure – all whilst being happy to spend upwards of £750 on a new, 5G compatible smartphone – then you are undoubtedly part of a very small, yet growing, number of people who can access this service at its history-making induction.

These articles seemingly focus on and highlight the supposed high costs, capped speeds and low allowances that we have seen so far as a reason not to even utilise the current offering. Yet already we are seeing announcements of new SIM only options to end users that include “unlimited” allowances, without speed caps, for less than £30 per month. I say “unlimited” as there will no doubt be caps around roaming allowances and artificial usage.

Another item I have to address is the current deliverable 5G speeds. A quick Google search reveals various videos of users – some journalists, others just technology fans – standing in city centre offices, on trains or even on rooftops, videoing speed tests that boast download speeds upwards of 400Mbps (megabits per second). To put that into perspective versus 4G, I have just run a speed test on my own smartphone, from sunny Nelson, Lancashire, somewhere not due for 5G coverage for quite some time, and it peaked at 4Mbps. This essentially means that we are already seeing live examples of speeds 100x faster than what’s realistically available right now.

The networks are happy to jump on this point, shouting about how great this is, that it’s only the start of things to come and how they aim to achieve speed of over 1Gbps. The “nay-sayers” will highlight that these speeds don’t take into consideration “contention”, that these tests have been done when potentially the person presenting the test might be the one and only person connected to the service at that time, and as we all know when more people utilise a data service, the performance drops. It’s a perfectly valid argument but it doesn’t mean the service won’t deliver with more users, especially with the proposed growth of the infrastructure.

The unfortunate truth is that we will not see widespread 5G availability for another couple of years. Add to that a little more time for extensive rural coverage, but that isn’t a reason to not get excited. Realistically it is undeniable that 5G will deliver a data service better than anything we have seen so far, it will open pathways to technology that some of us thought only possible through CGI in a Hollywood blockbuster.

We have already been presented with 5G breakthrough technology, currently in trials all over the globe. From industry relevant technology, such as holographic calling, to large scale cost saving potential with smart cities, smart transport and smart appliances. Not to mention how 5G might help in the world of medicine, with automated drones that can deliver medical supplies and even a 5G connected surgery glove, enabling surgeons to operate on patient from thousands of miles away. The potential will only grow.

So I’d like to be clear to everyone. I’m all in, I’m a fan, I’m a buyer. 5G will change the world. Though it is tantalisingly near, and yet so far.

Categories: Blog

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