It promises a new era of technology, but at the moment, this “super-fast” 5G cellular network is turning to be one of the factors that have put China-United States relations into a tailspin. This week, in response to the US’ economic sanctions on Huawei, Britain has ordered the dismantling of equipment made by the Chinese telecommunication giant from its 5G network. On that note, we’d like to bring you five things to know about this next-generation network.
What is 5G?
As the name suggests, it is the fifth-generation successor to 4G technology – which is a decade old and struggling to keep pace with global broadband demand. The rollout of 5G promises to provide radically faster transfers of data; heralding major changes to an array of products and services from self-driving cars to remote surgery. On the entertainment front, users will be able to download a high-definition movie in a few minutes compared to an hour or two.
The market for streaming video games will get a huge lift as well. So will the “Internet of things” — think domestic appliances, lighting and other at-home technologies connected and operated remotely. It is, however, not just about the speed of downloads and uploads that 5G brings. The network brings a much lower “latency” than 4G; that is, the time lag between a command being sent by a user and a device acting on it. In the real world, this brings the possibility of surgeons operating on patients from afar using augmented reality glasses. The most visible gain from lower latency, though, could be with the widespread advent of autonomous cars. That said, these possibilities would need 5G networks to cover huge areas of space. And it’s still some way off.
When is 5g coming?
The network and technology is already in place in countries like South Korea and in some US cities. The global breakthrough — widespread ultra-fast mobile networks on a par with 4G today — is still in the works. Britain conceded that their decision on Huawei would delay its own 5G rollout by up to three years.
If we’re looking at a global perspective, mobile communications industry body GSMA forecasted that only one in five mobile connections will be running on 5G networks by 2025. To date, South Korea’s Samsung and Huawei have 5G-enabled smartphones, but Apple has yet to launch a compatible model.
A 5G wave?
Governments first need to establish gadgets and networks that can withstand the high millimetre-wave (mmWave) standards of 5G. It works with a high-frequency mmWave spectrum that starts at approximately 30 gigahertz. To put this in perspective, 4G networks operate at lower frequency of 6 GHz. This would essentially mean not only ultra-fast broadband, but also much greater bandwidth for many more users and devices to be connected to the 5G network simultaneously.
Who is building it?
Without a doubt, the 5G network requires a whole new infrastructure of masts, base stations, and receivers. Today, telecommunications companies that are in the race to incorporate 5G into its tech are China’s Huawei, Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia, South Korea’s Samsung, and Japan’s NEC. According to the GSMA, mobile operators are expected to spend $1.1 trillion worldwide by 2025 in investment – 80 per cent of which will be on 5G networks.
What’s the fuss?
In recent times, we’ve heard the US government saying Huawei might be a security risk and has urged several allies to shun its equipment over fears it could serve as a Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence services. After this week’s decision, Britain has joined the US, Australia, and Japan in freezing the company out of its 5G development. Only time will tell if Germany’s next.