5G: The Need for Speed

Imagine being able to download your favourite Netflix film in less than 15 seconds. With 5G, that dream has become a reality.

By Nathan Matthie | Twitter @nathan_matthie | Illustration by Dean Temjit (@Dean_Temjit)

What exactly is 5G?

5G stands for the fifth generation of mobile networks and represents a huge step up from  the current mobile network that is found in all modern smartphones, 4G. This new generation of mobile networking will be using a unique system of cells that divide their territory into sectors and send encoded data through radio waves, which will deliver massively faster speeds.

According to The UK’s communications regulator, OFCOM, 5G is expected to deliver peak speeds of up to 10-20 gigabits per second – a whopping 30 to 60 times faster than 4G, which has a peak speed of around 300 megabits per second. The speeds are so ridiculously fast that 5G-only networks will be able to replace your current broadband in your household and bypass WIFI networks altogether.

OFCOM also suggests that latency times will be 50 times faster than 4G, decreasing from 50 milliseconds to just 1 millisecond, which means that in the time it takes for you to press the play button on Spotify or YouTube, your media would be playing almost at real time. Although this might be very subtle, the difference between 50 milliseconds and 1 millisecond of latency will play a big part in future technology such as self-driving cars and virtual reality, where a split second could be the difference between normality and an accident.

5G networks will “reshape the internet”, says Antonio Villas-Boas, a senior tech reporter for Business Insider. He emphasises how incredible speed and immediacy will allow for continuous innovation in apps and services. According to Villas-Boas, “it will pave the way for 8K video streams”, but he stresses consumer benefits are only one part of the 5G picture. “The speed and low latency will let everything connect and communicate faster, and it’ll make applications that need that kind of performance possible.”

What new things can you do with 5G?

5G is not just the next generation of mobile networking – it is also the most vital. Society is constantly evolving and gearing towards the online world, and the introduction of 5G will allow for all kinds of new technologies to develop. For example, it can significantly change the way that healthcare is delivered. It will give surgeons the the fascinating ability to conduct surgery remotely from thousands of miles away. This is only possible due to the 1 millisecond latency on the 5G network, which eliminates any possible lag that could prove to be fatal in a surgical situation.

On the 28th February this year, Dr. Ling Zhipei became the first person to conduct 5G surgery on a human, when he successfully performed surgery from an operating room in Beijing 1800 miles away on a patient at his local hospital in Hainan, China. This could prove to be revolutionary, not least because it could save future patients and health services a lot of money by eliminating the need to travel.

5G will also enable the advancement of the technology behind self-driving cars. The possibility of you never having to lay a hand on the wheel is now much closer. With 5G’s extremely low latency this means that the data being sent between the car sensor recognising another car in front of it and a cloud based server recognising the danger of the car in front of it will be instantaneous.

This is vital on the road, and previous attempts at driver-less cars have almost always failed due to higher latency and greater chance of an accident happening. According to Villas-Boas, “autonomous cars would need constant access to data, and that data has to be snappy for the car to make “split second decisions.” So far, only 5G has promised the low latency that’s needed for the cars themselves to make split second “decisions.”  

How will 5G Impact us?

In the UK, an estimated 98% of 16-24 year old‘s accessed the internet via smartphones in 2018, a 4% increase since 2016. This shows that the demand for mobile networking is increasing every year and gives us a sense of what the full potential can really be.

“5G is not simply about faster internet connections”, says Calum Macbeth from the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport. “ In fact, 5G will be tailored to the needs of the individuals or services that will use it”

“ In fact, 5G will be tailored to the needs of the individuals or services that will use it.”


Macbeth explained how 5G could be used for different individuals. “The capabilities and infrastructure required to deliver 5G in rural areas, for example smart farming, will be different to the capabilities required in a football stadium, where thousands of fans may want to stream high definition video and replays.

“5G is expected to give users the sense of always having access to high quality and rapid networks and to provide connectivity for many thousands of internet connected devices – known as the Internet of Things. “

Villas-Boas points out that “the world has been getting smaller and smaller, more accessible with every new generation of wireless communications.” 5G will only increase this trend.

“The world has been getting smaller and smaller, more accessible with every new generation of wireless communications.”

Antonio villias-boas – BUSINESS INSIDER

How Have We Got to 5G?

5G did not just come out of the blue. It has been years in the making – 35 years, to be precise. in 1984 the first generation of mobile networking,1G, was launched in one of the most technologically advanced countries, Japan. This was a huge breakthrough in technology at the time, enabling individuals to make voice calls rather However, 1G had a huge drawback: by using analogue signals instead of digital ones, a simple voice call from Nottingham to Mansfield would have been a huge struggle in the late 1980’s.

In 1991, the first digital network, 2G, was first released in Finland. With the promise of stronger and faster signals, 2G had far greater potential. 2G saw an increase of mobile phone users and also a new method of communication: SMS text messages. This inspired a  huge cultural shift, as people began to prefer written rather than verbal forms of communication.

The first iPhone was one of the breakthrough smartphones to utilise the benefits of the 2G mobile network. The phone enabled users to have clear voice calling and quick SMS and multimedia messaging digitally, which in turn allowed content such as pictures and videos to be sent digitally using a mobile network.

Suddenly in the world, more and more people were using mobile phones which meant that there was a larger demand for mobile networks and data services such as the internet. Network developers knew that something had to be done to ensure that the next generation of mobile networking would be up to the demand of the user, and, in 2003, 3G was released in the UK.

This new network offered a huge number of benefits over 2G, such as the ability to stream HD videos with a far superior buffering time. This became extremely important with the rise in popularity of YouTube from 2005, and no doubt contributed to the site’s meteoric success.

The penultimate generation of mobile networking is 4G. Introduced in the UK in 2012, it proved as a major breakthrough in digital streaming. Apps such as Spotify took advantage of this and had major success, with subscription services continually on the rise in the UK.

Where will 5G take us?

5G isn’t just about faster speeds or low latency – it is a revolution. Over the next decade, it will allow technology which we would never have dreamed of to become a reality. The power of mobile networking has come a long way since it first began in 1984,when all you could do with a phone were to make simple voice calls whereas you can now can speak to someone virtually on the opposite side of the world using apps such as FaceTime and Skype.

As Villas-Boas says, “essentially, 5G will bring people of world closer together, simply because communications will be faster and more immediate than ever.” With 5G entering the the mobile world imminently,it will almost certainly be a part of our daily lives, allowing us to engage with world-changing technologies sooner than we might think.


Magazine and website celebrating Nottingham's stories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s