It’s no secret that businesses and consumers alike are getting their hands on more and more network-connected devices. Gartner estimates that there will be 20.8 billion network-connected devices worldwide by 2020 (compared to 6.4 billion today) and Internet of Things sensors are appearing in everything from fridges to water meters.
Of course, this means that we need our internet connections to be faster and more stable. That’s the promise of 5G (fifth generation) mobile wireless. Best of all, the infrastructure for 5G is already in place, meaning there’s no wait for cables or lines to be laid.
Connectivity times one hundred
The difference between the 4G connections used by most current devices and the 5G connections to come is like the difference in water flow between a garden hose and a fire hose.
Early tests of 5G networks have hit 10 Gbps speeds. The average speed of today’s fastest mobile network is 12.3 Mbps, so that’s as much 100 times faster. Putting that into practical terms, at the Future: Mobile 2016 conference, industry insiders discussed a 5G network that will be fast enough to:
- download an HD movie in three seconds (compared to an hour on a 4G LTE connection)
- connect every device in the house to the internet
- allow musicians in different locations to play music together
When will 5G be available?
In Australia, rollouts are expected to begin in high-density, urban hotspots by 2018. 5G is expected to be widely available in New Zealand around 2020, roughly equivalent to the anticipated rollout timetable in the US.
What industries will be affected?
The benefits of 5G go beyond simply being able to stream 4K movies with surround sound. Higher speed means lower latency – the lag between a signal being send the same signal being received. 4G networks have an average latency of 50 milliseconds. 5G networks have a latency of just 1 millisecond. This plays out in lots of interesting ways.
Driverless cars aren’t just coming, they’re already here. They need to communicate with each other and other systems in real time to drive safely and save lives (at 4G LTE speeds, a car moving at 100km/h travels 1.5 meters between detecting an obstacle and braking; at 5G speeds, it travels just a few centimeters). Importantly, they need this to integrate with the automated traffic flow management systems that will play an increasingly important role in keeping our driverless fleets flowing efficiently, reducing congestion, pollution and other inefficiencies.
Reduced latency is key to the impacts 5G will have on medicine as well. A 5G connection should be fast and stable enough to allow one doctor to guide another through surgery, which would take remote medicine to another level. That’s not to discount the ability to shift huge amounts of data quickly; medical data files can be huge, especially as we move into 3D scanning, modelling and printing. It’ll be a boon for patients in remote or rural areas, as they won’t need to travel to major cities to consult with specialists.
Online video games are big business already, and they’re only going to get bigger when gamers don’t even need to download a game to play it (let alone go out and buy the disk). We’re already seeing some infrastructure for games moving into the cloud, but the arrival of 5G will allow for fully online or cloud-based games. High speeds and low latency will allow gamers to play by streaming over a mobile network, which means that instead of expensive PCs or game consoles, a simple ‘dumb’ terminal and display – or even a smartphone – will be all a gamer needs.
Concert venues and promoters might not like it but streaming full 3D images and surround sound from sports and entertainment is the way of the future. How about a football game where, thanks to your VR rig and a massive data stream, you can be on the field with the players in real time? On stage with your favorite band? Or just sitting at home enjoying a direct stream of the latest movie or TV show in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos sound?
The possibilities are endless – all we need are data streams big enough to make them a reality. And thanks to 5G, those streams are coming sooner rather than later.