5G poised to be the game-changer in the UK’s digital landscape

5G poised to be the game-changer in the UK's digital landscape

There is no doubting that the digital landscape has been altered dramatically by the arrival of 4G. The ability to enjoy fast internet access on the move has given rise to a host of flexible working trends, bringing benefits to companies in various business sectors.

While it has brought about considerably faster speeds than 3G, mobile broadband coverage is by no means universal across the UK, with average 4G speeds reaching around 15Mbps – a little faster than the average home broadband connection, which in 2015 stood at 12Mbps.

Those numbers are a little way off those predicted by the International Telecommunication Union, which in 2008 declared that 4G should be able to deliver 1Gbps for stationary devices, and 100Mbps for those moving.

Despite not managing to reach those heights, the popularity of 4G has not waned, with adoption rates steadily increasing over the last few years.

However, while many are still getting comfortable with 4G, companies such as Samsung and Huawei are already developing the next generation of mobile networks, prompting a flurry of predictions relating to what many are referring to as 5G.

In the pipeline

The move towards 5G connectivity is not exactly new. In a series of tests in 2014, Samsung claimed it had achieved speeds of 7.5Gbps, which is over 30 times faster than 4G.

That benchmark was smashed earlier in 2015, when researchers at the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey announced they had developed the technology needed to reach 1Tbps at 100m.

Whether or not the speeds achieved in lab conditions can be replicated in the real world remains to be seen, but industry regulator Ofcom already appears set on the idea, stating the technology could reach speeds of between 10 and 50Gbps.

October saw Ofcom announce that it intended to sell off the 2.3 and 3.4 Ghz spectrums with a view to moving towards 5G services, adding the move would see the sale of large portions of spectrum that could "have the potential to support very fast download speeds".

It added that the bands released were suited to 5G and other high speed mobile broadband services due to their potential to carry large amounts of data at once.

Despite those exciting forecasts, Ofcom admits a 5G network is unlikely to be fully operational until 2018, adding that the necessary hardware may not be on the market before 2020.

Exciting possibilities

According to Professor Rahim Tafazolli: "5G will be a dramatic overhaul and harmonisation of the radio spectrum," which in turn will open up a wealth of exciting possibilities for both consumers and enterprises.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has already been touted as a positive influence on the business world and 5G could extend that connectivity beyond the walls of the home or the office.

One such possibility is that of driver-less cars, a thought fresh out of a futuristic utopia even in today's world of 4G.

One of the first questions is likely to be around reliability, with network connection drop-outs being potentially deadly in such high-risk situations.

However, Sara Mazur, head of Ericsson Research told the BBC: "It [5G] will have the reliability that you currently get over fibre connections."

Smart transport and remote controlled hardware will also need a lower latency (time lag between and action and response).

Ericsson predicts 5G's latency will be around one millisecond – unperceivable to a human and around 50 times faster than 4G.