We are already seeing signs that the faster speed of 4G is changing the way we use mobile devices, services and apps for leisure and work. For example, take the latest Mobile Living Index survey of 1,000 of 4G customers by EE that reveals:
- 60 per cent of people say they save time with 4G, with 13 per cent gaining an hour’s leisure time every day as a result.
- 77 per cent of people say their work productivity has grown because of 4G, with 16 per cent saying it has doubled.
And 4G is allowing businesses to reap all kinds of productivity and innovation benefits, from equipping sales teams out in the field to providing high speed connectivity to remote offices and sites. But technology never stands still and talk within the industry is already turning to the next evolution of mobile networks – 5G. Industry experts are generally predicting that the 5G standard will be agreed by 2020 with the launch of the first commercial networks around two or three years after that.
evolution of 4G
Before we consider developments around 5G it’s worth remembering that there’s still a lot of advances to come with the continued evolution of 4G over the next few years.
Already we are starting to see the launch of faster 4G services through 4G LTE-Advanced, also known as ‘4G+’, which aggregates spectrum to increase network capacity and data speeds even more. EE, for example, launched its 4G+ service in central London in October, offering mobile data speeds regularly up to 90Mbps and as high as 150Mbps – with a theoretical maximum of 300Mbps. EE plans to extend 4G+ coverage across other parts of London and UK cities in 2015.
Professor Andy Sutton, EE’s principal network architect, says the ongoing evolution of 4G and the development of 5G will progress in parallel: “We have so much coming with 4G so we shouldn’t rush this. We’ve got a long way still to go with 4G so we’ve got time to get 5G right. I don’t think our customers would thank us for not focusing on 4G.”
On the very early 5G development front, here in the UK there is the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, which the major UK mobile operators are members of. The core research focus of 5GIC is the development of an ‘always sufficient rate’ to give users the perception of ‘infinite capacity’. That includes looking at higher spectral efficiency, low latencies, energy efficiency and reducing rates gap between fixed and mobile networks. 5GIC will also look at ‘human to device’, ‘device to device’ and ‘data to data’ communications.
In Europe there is the EU Horizon 2020 programme, which is funding the 5G Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative over the next seven years to research and develop the architectures and technologies that will underpin 5G. That includes looking at things such as the 90-95GHz band, mesh backhaul and millimetre waveband for radio access.
what will be the benefits of 5G?
Although no 5G standards have yet been agreed, early predictions suggest 5G networks will support peak download rates of between 10 and 100 GbpsI and it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask why we need a mobile network that is 100 times faster than 4G. To understand this means looking at the wider context of some of the emerging technology trends that will start to hit the mainstream over the next decade.
More than one billion smartphones were sold globally last year and analyst Gartner predicts 26 billion devices – excluding PCs, smartphones and tablets – will be connected to the internet by 2020. All these connected devices, machines and people will make up the Internet of Things (IoT) – home heating systems, utility meters, city traffic systems, cars, fitness and health devices and much more that are all connected and collecting and transmitting data. There are also emerging trends such as augmented reality, haptic feedback and the tactile web that will develop over the next decade. We’ll need bigger and faster mobile networks to make that a reality and experts predict that 5G networks will have up to 5,000 times the capacity of 4G, providing enough bandwidth for all these connected ‘things’. Near-zero latency – less than 10 milliseconds – will likely be another key feature of 5G networks, enabling almost instant download and streaming of videos and other entertainment.
when will we see 5G?
5G as a standard doesn’t yet exist. But industry body the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is making progress on standardisation and says the technology specification for 5G should be ready by 2019 with the goal of a 2020 for launch of the first commercial 5G networks.
South Korea is planning a nationwide trial of 5G as soon as 2018 and there will be other development milestones along the way. Just last month, for example, Samsung announced it had successfully transmitted data over a 28GHz 5G network at a speed of 7.5Gbps in a stationary environment, while it achieved an uninterrupted and stable connection at 1.2Gbps in a mobile environment, in a car travelling at over 100km/h.
However these developments pan out, over the next half a decade or so through the evolution of 4G and on the road to 5G, it’s clear that mobile connectivity is set to get even faster, opening up a whole world of exciting new possibilities limited, perhaps, only by our own imagination.
by Andy McCue, EE