The 5G Revolution is Coming

Forget 4G, in a few years it’ll all be about 5G. The largest step forward for mobile technology yet, it will offer vastly superior speeds over 4G, but also many other benefits. So what exactly is 5G, and how will it benefit the average user?

Mobile data use has skyrocketed over the last few years; since 2015 alone, it’s gone up by 74%. The estimated global figure for data usage stands at around 3.7 exabytes per month. To put this in perspective – 1 exabyte equals 1,000,000 terabytes. And that’s the amount of data we’re using as a planet is currently at every month. So what’s underpinning this exponential growth in data usage? Put simply, it’s the huge growth of streaming services and apps that require a 4G connection at all times.

So what is 5G exactly, and how does it differ from 4G and 3G before it? If you’re a smartphone user (which, let’s face it, who isn’t?, you’ll have noticed a 3G or 4G symbol at the top of your phone. This denotes the type of mobile network that your smartphone is connecting to. 3G was improved upon by 4G, and 5G will take it even further. The new generation is expected to bring ultra-fast, ultra-reliable data transfer, allowing the user to connect more devices. So how fast will it be? Well, the current estimates put it at around 100Mbps, which is roughly double the speed of networks using LTE-Advanced, which can reach speeds of up to 50Mbps. In reality, though, most 4G users can only expect speeds of 20-30Mbps, so 5G will be a huge boost in terms of speed. Latency will also ne improved – this refers to the gap between loading a web link and it fully appearing. 5G will completely close this gap.

The average user actually only consumes 2.5GB of data a month, but accord to a report from CCS Insight, by 2021 this is predicted to grow to 18GB. Advancements in HD content including 4K and 360 degree video, as well as the rise of virtual reality, point towards the need for larger data limits. Three is the only network that offers unlimited 4G, and their users use on average 7GB per month, way more than users of other networks. Finland actually operates unlimited data on all networks, with customers using on average 16.5GB per month. Many networks around the world are offering what they’re calling ‘zero-rating’. Essentially, operators allow certain apps to be used with no data being consumed – examples include Spotify, Netflix and Soundcloud. EE, Virgin and Vodaphone offer all three of these apps zero-rated.

According to current forecasts, we won’t see 5G out in the wild being used by consumers until 2022; CCS Insights estimates that by 2025, more than half of all mobile connections will be 5G. The UK normally gets the short end of the stick – 4G arrived in Asia and the USA way before it did here. Philip Hammond, the UK Chancellor, announced in the Autumn Statement last year a commitment to 5G and promised £740 million for its development, although he set no timescales.