People sat, looking at their smartphones

5G to 2020: more than phones, less than drones

Much is being made of the arrival of 5G, but when you pare away the autonomous cars, armies of drones, futuristic film clips in news stories and indecipherable jargon, what will it really mean for our daily lives?

It’s just phones, right?

Yes and no. Knowing a little about its predecessors might give you a bit of an understanding of how we’ve arrived at 5G – the ‘fifth generation mobile network’.

Back in those dark, bleak days before Googling cat videos became a global pastime, early mobile networks did nothing more than carry your voice. For the older among us, this sounds like a little slice of heaven, but would probably fill today’s Gen Z with terror. It represented a big leap in progress when 2G (which was digital) allowed us to send text messages and – gasp – pictures.

We’re all familiar with the faster and more reliable 3G and 4G networks. They endlessly frustrate us, simply by the fact that they co-exist with Wifi. And there we have the crux of the matter – at the point of 3G, phones ceased to be just a way to talk to each other. They became our ‘everything devices’. And we expect them to keep up with humans.

Back in those dark, bleak days before Googling cat videos became a global pastime, early mobile networks did nothing more than carry your voice.

5G will be a leap in ability for mobile networks and its speed will more than match the reaction/response time of a human. To give you an understanding of what this means, consider that to download a full HD movie on 3G would take hours. On 5G it will take seconds. Which is all rather lovely if you need to entertain the kids on a long car ride, but surely it’s got to give us more benefits than that?

Enter ‘The Internet of Things’. Like apple and cinnamon or Jay-Z and Beyoncé, 5G and IoT are made for each other. Many of us quite naturally ask Alexa to make shopping lists, check the weather, play music or switch the lights on. In the future, it’s likely that none of our smart devices will require WiFi and, as a result, more and more of the basics of running a home will be down to sophisticated ‘plug and play’ connected gadgets. Fancy instantly seeing the inside of your fridge from work? Or having a dishwasher that automatically orders tablets before they run out? Maybe you’d like a glass of wine at the perfect temperature waiting for you when you arrive home from work? That’ll be IoT, connected by marvellous little eSIM cards that can let even the most unlikely devices use the 5G network.

A desk with a computer in a home office
The ‘anywhere worker’ will find life easier

All play? Not quite.

The truth is, we’re a long way from knowing exactly what 5G is capable of, but if there’s one place it will really make a difference then it’s at work. The future office has the potential to be more flexible, productive and efficient. Which is actually far more interesting than it might at first sound.

Being an ‘anywhere worker’ will be easier.

If you’ve ever tried to conference call on a train, you’ll know what a nightmare it can be. Frequent drop outs, poor sound quality and most of the meeting is spent trying to deal with connectivity issues. 5G will deal with all these things. In a utopian 5G future, even public transport itself may become more automated and (dare we say it) dependable. Remote workers will have it even better, as conference calling is likely to become a more interactive business – with Virtual Reality making everyone feel more ‘together’.

Clever, safer, more comfortable offices

Like homes, offices can be monitored by sensors and network cameras to know how many people are in the building and where. Temperature and lighting can be controlled intelligently, resulting in great savings and, most importantly, happier employees.

An empty highway surrounded by trees
The environmental driver behind ‘Smart Cities’ projects will be beneficial to all

Less commuter hell and a cleaner, greener world

We’ve all heard about countries launching their ‘Smart City’ projects, but did you know that much of it centres on cleaner air? Cities like Amsterdam have networks of Bluetooth-enabled sensors and network cameras which measure and monitor traffic. They let them quickly manage road congestion and improve the air in affected areas. It’s clever stuff, that will only get faster and smarter and wider ranging after a switch from Bluetooth to 5G. So, we get to work faster, and our air is cleaner? It’s a win-win situation.

Will the “how much?” hurt?

We’re still a couple of years away from a full roll-out, which is due to hit in 2020. The closer it gets, the clearer the cost will be, but since network operators are investing billions in the development and infrastructure, it’s likely to have a commensurate price tag.

What’s next?

Simply, we wait. When the full extent of 5Gs capabilities is known, then that’s when we’ll start to see the real innovations happen. Do don’t expect to see drones delivering your shopping or doctors regularly performing open heart surgery across continents just yet. But the small changes towards better living are happening right now and are only likely to get better.

Written by Rosie Harries

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