It’s the next information superhighway, and some even think that 5G technology could be among the most important developments in human history. 5G is still poised to take-off in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic putting certain areas on hold, and all kinds of new communications technologies are grabbing the spotlight.
There’s a good reason. 5G data moves at around 10 gigabytes per second – that’s 20 times faster than 4G – and latency is less than a millisecond. That’s the blink of an eye, and a hundred times faster than 4G. Super-fast downloads to your smartphone? Sure, but 5G goes way, way beyond your smartphone, and it could even render it the least interesting device in your pocket.
Here are five ways 5G could transform communications.
1. A giant leap in capacity
If you’ve ever struggled to send a text message or check the scores at half-time at a sports stadium, 5G will change your Saturday afternoon forever (last year Verizon brought 5G to 13 NFL stadiums). At the heart of 5G is something called mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications). This isn’t about speed, but capacity – up to a million connected devices per square kilometre. That’s a mighty improvement on the 60,000+ supported devices under 4G. As well as bringing back online people in busy places like sports stadiums, shopping malls and train stations, it will also bring 5G’s huge jump in download and streaming speeds to massive audiences.
2. Ultra HD video calls
FaceTime is just so 2010. A basic video connection between two devices, the quality is terrible and it uses … smartphones. Although the first wave of video calls over 5G will be on phones (which is why most 5G phones have better front cameras), in the long term expect full HD, 4K and even 8K video streams to be exchanged between 5G-enabled augmented reality (AR) devices and virtual reality (VR) headsets. With 5G’s ability to stream high capacity data packets in real-time, video-calling applications are about to get super-charged and go 360°.
3. 5G in space
You’ve probably heard all about Space and OneWeb’s plans to launch thousands of small satellites into low-Earth orbit to create global broadband internet services. However, neither is suggesting 5G speeds. Cue Chinese private satellite company Galaxy Space, which launched a 225 kg satellite to test 5G communications in low-Earth orbit in January. Promising ‘low-cost, high-performance 5G satellites’, the Beijing-based company wants to deliver 5G coverage to all the regions of the world. That’s definitely going to take more than one satellite launch. In fact, a constellation of hundreds of satellites – called Galaxy-1 – will be required, and it seems that the satellites will also be capable of de-orbiting when they reach the end of their life, so in the long-term they shouldn’t add much to the growing problem of space junk. The race between the superpowers to develop 5G networks is hotting-up … though expect a plethora of Chinese companies to do battle amongst themselves for dominance in the race for space-based 5G.
4. 3D holographic calling
This one doesn’t just depend on 5G networks, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but once video calling over 5G has improved expect another giant leap to be made with the advent of live 3D holographic phone calls. Last year UK network operator Vodafone conducted the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G technology, with England and Manchester City Women’s footballer Steph Houghton using 5G tech to make a holographic call from Manchester. She appeared as a live 3D hologram on stage in front of an audience at Vodafone’s UK HQ in Newbury. European network operator Cosmote in Greece has also used the same tech to ‘holoport’ musicians in different physical locations on to a virtual stage where they played a piece of music together. 3D holographic calls require about four times as much data as a streamed 4K video – itself pretty data-intensive – though 5G’s low latency is just as important. In the long term the tech has potential applications for medical imaging, video conferencing and gaming.
5. The birth of ‘XR’
Forget ‘remote working’ and get ready for immersive ‘virtual working’. When anyone can wear a virtual reality headset anywhere to communicate and ‘see’ ‘digital twin’ environments of conference rooms, factories and even virtual networking events packed with avatars of colleagues, you’ll know the 5G-powered era of ‘XR’ – mixed reality – has begun. A combination of extended, augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technologies. XR will make working from home the norm. After all, why bother going to the office when you can very easily be placed in a virtual environment? Cutting-edge high resolution audio and visuals will allow people to interact in a high quality and convincing manner in ways that 4G just doesn’t come close to. However, it will require a new generation of advanced displays for VR headsets.