5G is coming. But what is it? What does it mean for the UK? And how will it affect your business?

If you’re wondering what exactly 5G is, we’ve got all the answers you need.

What is 5G?

5G – or ‘fifth generation’ is the next generation of mobile internet connectivity.

5G is not a single technology. Instead, it brings together a series of standards that dictate how mobile phones and other smart devices should work. Some think of it as an evolving ‘network of networks’ that covers a broad range of devices from phones to smart household appliances as part of the ‘Internet of Things’.

Until now, we’ve had 4G. But improvements in technology and changes in how people interact with tech – and more importantly, how they will interact with devices in the future – mean standards need updating.

The introduction of 5G promises faster speeds, wider coverage, better capacity and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before.

How does 5G work?

Whenever we use a smartphone or other mobile device, the data is transmitted using radio waves. These radio waves are bands of different frequencies. At present, existing bands are becoming clogged due to all the devices being used. This can lead to a drop in service, especially when lots of people are attempting to access online services in the same area, at the same time.

5G overcomes this problem by using higher radio frequencies. These are less busy and are able to transmit information at a faster rate.

Although higher frequencies are faster, they do have one major downside – they are not as efficient at transmitting data over long distances. This is because radio waves are easily blocked by physical objects such as buildings or trees. To get around this problem, mobile networks will need to install many new transmitters. But unlike the huge phone masts of the past, with 5G, the transmitters can be much smaller. This means they are likely to be hidden on buildings or in street furniture.

It’s estimated that with 5G, the technology will be able to support up to 1,000 more devices per metre than 4G.

Why do we need 5G?

We can already watch a movie on a mobile phone, order pizza from our tablet or use voice control to play music. So, it’s natural to wonder whether we really need 5G. Surely, we can already do everything we want to?

With current 4G capabilities, frequencies can become clogged and that’s when mobile phone customers get frustrated with network speeds and connection reliability. In addition, technology developments mean change is necessary if we are to realise the benefits of advances in virtual reality, self-driving cars, wearable fitness devices and the ‘Internet of Things’, for example.

How fast is 5G?

5G is much, much faster than 4G. How fast? Well, 4G typically offers download speeds of around 20 Mbps (megabits per second). 5G meanwhile, could achieve speeds of 1 Gbps (gigabits per second), which is equivalent to 1,000 Mbps.

To put that into context, it could mean an HD movie that currently takes 30 minutes to download, would be downloaded in under a minute with 5G. Other forecasts suggest that speeds could be even faster – up to 10 Gbps – quick enough to download that movie in under 10 seconds.

Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see exactly what speed 5G is capable of but we know for sure, it will be fast!

What are the benefits of 5G?

As we’ve seen, 5G offers huge advantages in terms of speed and reliability. But it also offers benefits in capacity, coverage and latency.

  • Better capacity

    With improved capacity, mobile users will lose signal less often. It’s predicted that a 5G cell tower could manage a hundred times more devices than a 4G tower. By easing the strain on the towers, mobile users should see an improvement in signal availability and strength.

  • Wider coverage

    Coverage should also be improved with the introduction of 5G – which is good news for anyone running a business in a rural area. Although coverage will still be determined by the network providers, it will be easier for them to place mobile masts in rural locations as they will be more compact than traditional masts.

  • Improved latency

    Network latency refers to the delay between giving an instruction to a device (e.g. hitting a button) and the transfer of data to the other end of the communications link.

Network latency is usually measured in milliseconds and you might think that tiny delays are negligible. But latency has been a hot topic in mobile gaming for years. Here even the smallest delay can have a big impact on when you pull the trigger or kick the ball past your opponent.

Now latency is becoming a more important consideration outside of the gaming world too. If we’re to fully see the benefits offered by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality technologies (AR), latency must be as low as possible. Otherwise, when using VR and AR, there could be a noticeable disconnect between what the body is doing and what the eyes are seeing. At best this could lead to frustration and dizziness for users. At worst, it could mean real-life accidents when virtual and augmented technologies become commonplace on our streets and roads.

With 5G, latency can be reduced to a minimum. That means we’ll experience much less delay when using our devices. With 4G, latency is typically around 40-50 milliseconds. 5G promises to reduce this to an undetectable 1 millisecond.

What are the benefits of 5G for businesses?

As well as bringing big benefits in our personal lives, 5G offers a host of exciting opportunities for businesses. At the moment, it’s hard to predict exactly how businesses will use the new technology but here are just a few of the benefits we expect to see:

Better services for your customers

No matter what industry you work in, from marketing to healthcare, more reliable mobile services mean more opportunities to improve the services you offer your customers.

It’s also important to consider that increasingly, customers expect to be able to engage with you from mobile devices – from checking order details to making appointments. With the introduction of 5G, this expectation will increase. That means it’s more important than ever for businesses to have a strong mobile strategy when providing services online.

New marketing opportunities

From video and virtual reality to online competitions and games; there are many innovative ways to market your business on mobile devices.

We expect to see more use of high-quality video in marketing as users are able to download videos more quickly.

5G also has the power to make augmented and virtual reality applications part of everyday life, opening up a host of new innovative ways to market products and services.

Improve efficiencies throughout your business

Mobile technology already offers businesses the opportunity to streamline systems, increase productivity and make cost savings. But some companies may have been reluctant to move certain tasks online, particularly if worried about network connection or speed. With 5G, many of the obstacles are overcome, making it easier for businesses to move tasks online to deliver efficiencies.

Better communication

With video calls that are clearer and less jerky, opportunities to hold conference calls with staff or customers – even those scattered around the world, will be easier than ever.

Flexible working

Allowing staff to work flexibly from home or elsewhere is good for retention and can increase motivation and productivity while cutting overheads. But often, unreliable internet connections make businesses reticent to allow remote working. With 5G, these issues can be resolved, making it easier for staff to work from any location while keeping in touch with staff in the office.

Efficient office spaces

With smart heating systems, CCTV monitoring streamed to mobile devices and efficient lighting, 5G offers opportunities to create smart spaces – at home and in the office. From cutting heating and electricity bills to providing security round the clock, with 5G we can expect buildings to become more efficient, comfortable and safe.

When is 5G coming to the UK?

It’s already here! On the EE network at least. And following EE’s launch of its 5G service in the UK in May, we expect other networks will be rushing to launch their own 5G services. However, it could take a year or two before we see widespread 5G coverage across the whole of the UK.

Will we need new mobile phones with 5G?

Yes, eventually we will all need to upgrade our phones to make full use of the benefits offered by 5G. But it probably makes sense to wait until more networks are offering 5G phones to take advantage of the best deals. Early adopters of 5G phones may also face the frustration of a patchy service until 5G is fully established.

What should my business do to prepare for 5G?

For UK businesses, it may seem like there’s no need to think about 5G until we have widespread coverage here. But it makes sense to start planning now and put a 5G strategy in place so that you’re ready when 5G arrives.

Think about how 5G will impact your business and what opportunities it could bring. What will your customers expect to be able to do in the future? How will they want to interact with your brand from their mobile devices? How can you use mobile technologies to improve your offering?

If you have an IT department, it will be important to think about the impact of 5G when planning any new IT investments to ensure that systems are future-proof.

If you don’t have an in-house IT team, talk to an IT support provider who’ll be able to discuss any plans you may need to put in place. It may also be a good idea to talk to your telecoms provider about their plans to deliver 5G in your area once it comes to the UK.

Taking the time now to plan a robust mobile strategy for the future will mean you’re ready to take advantage of all the opportunities that 5G offers as soon as they’re available.

What next?

We hope you’ve found this article useful. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your business plan for the future, click here to book your free consultation call.

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