What, exactly, is 5G?

5G is currently making the headlines, but what is it exactly? 

Everything in telecommunications is about international standards.  This means that manufacturers of network and phone equipment, network operators, governments, etc can ensure that everything is going to work together (to the best extent they can).

5G therefore, is the what the industry is aiming for as the next standard.  It follows on from 2G, 3G and 4G, but it is important to note that there is no agreement or formal standard yet.

5G is the subject of much research; in 2012 here in the UK for example the Government announced that the University of Surrey would create a 5G Innovation Centre – the first in the world specifically for 5G mobile research.  Of course, the UK is not alone in 5G research these days, with most countries investing.  Companies are in on the game with Huawei making some pretty impressive announcements.

How does it differ from 4G?

Like 4G (LTE) the focus of 5G is on data.  However, where 4G aimed to improve speed in terms of maximum throughput alone, current proposals for 5G do include speed increases but importantly they have capacity aims too.  This means that, in theory, highly populated areas such as London that suffer from network congestion would see much more stable performance than with 4G (which in turn would give better data speeds to the individual user too).

There is also a focus on minimizing latency, which is slightly different from download/upload speeds.  In albeit over simplified terms, it is the how ‘fast’ rather than how ‘much’ of your internet connection and is very important for things like online gaming where triggering actions quickly is key.

The upshot of all of this is that, with 5G, you should have a super-fast and reliable mobile broadband connection.

Machines, not just people

Other aspects of the 5G proposals aim to hardness this improved capacity to improve connectivity for machines to talk to other machines (a field called the Internet of Things, or somethings Machine 2 Machine/M2M).

Which frequencies will it run on?

To deliver the high data speeds and capacity, government organisations are currently earmarking high frequency spectrum for 5G.  In the USA the FCC has approved spectrum on 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39GHz to be used for 5G.  In the UK Ofcom are looking to frequencies within the 2 – 4GHz range for 5G.

When will it be available?

Current industry analysts are expecting the initial rollouts to be happening by 2020 (in fact, whilst Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced this).  Of course, this is just a goal and it does not imply that mobile phone manufacturers will have rolled out support for 5G, nor will it bind network operators to have good, or any, coverage.


If you have questions, please feel free to ask them over in our Q&A section.