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What is 5G and how does it work?

5G is expected to reach more than 40 per cent global population coverage and 1.5 billion subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2024. 

Promising superfast speeds and an end to congestion, the 5G technology is expected to revolutionise mobile networking and create new economic opportunities.

Here we reveal how the 5G technology actually works and the difference it will make to mobile networking and the economy in the near future.

The newest generation of mobile technology

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth-generation of mobile telecoms technology standard for broadband cellular networks, and the successor to 4G networks, which provide connectivity to most current smartphones and mobile devices. 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency and more reliability.

How does 5G work?

5G is a new digital system for transforming bytes – data units – over the air. It uses a new radio interface along with other technologies to transfer exponentially more data over the air for faster speeds, reduced congestion and low latency. 5G enables more devices to be used within the same geographic area – 4G supports about 4,000 devices per square kilometre whereas 5G will support around one million.

This means more data streaming, more voice over IP calls, and more video carried without interruption over the limited air space.

Let’s talk speed

How does 5G differ from 4G?

Compared to third-generation mobile networking, 4G enabled previously impossible quality video streaming and calling on the go. But now, 4G is reaching the technical limits of how much data it can quickly transfer, plus there is an increase in congestion in the network, but with 5G this will be eliminated. This means that we will no longer view five bars but still be unable to access a web browser! But arguably, 5G’s biggest differentiator will be as a gateway for the Internet of Things – connected world at scale.

In summary 5G has several benefits over 4G: higher speeds, less latency, capacity for a larger number of connected devices, less interference and better efficiency.

How fast will 5G really be?

Each operator owns blocks of spectrum to transmit sound, data and video. Today an operator might have 100 Mhz of the entire spectrum to use for all of its UK customers, but eventually, with 5G this will increase to around 1,000 Mhz. This will create much less latency in the system, meaning data will be transferred in real-time.

Latency for 4G is around 20-30 milliseconds, but for 5G it will reach well below 10 milliseconds.

For consumers, this will essentially make things seem faster, but for business processes (e.g., for long-distance, remotely controlled heavy machinery) it will be critical.

What about benefits?

How is it going to help your business?

It’s anticipated that 5G will be the catalyst for connecting humans and machines together on an unprecedented scale for new business and economic opportunities. This includes the development of truly haptic applications – where tactile sensation or experience can be shared live – so remote operators of robotics can ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ through a machine despite being thousands of miles away e.g., for remote surgery.

5G is also expected to create truly connected and smart cities, as well as be the supporting network for autonomous vehicles.

Getting ready for 5G?

While 5G is set to do some amazing things, the reality is that many won’t be able to take advantage straight away, but the potential use cases and benefits of 5G are extremely exciting. So, are you ready for 5G?

Learn more about our business-only mobile service built on the UK’s fastest 5G network.