What is 5G and when will it launch in the UK?

5G will enable faster mobile connections (Lynne Cameron/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The world is on the cusp of the 5G era, which will not only ramp up streaming on your smartphone but also benefit everything from virtual reality to healthcare.

Mobile speeds will be noticeably faster than existing 4G networks, and more reliable.

But we could still be a couple of years away from getting a taste of 5G in the UK.

What is 5G?

5G is the next generation of wireless mobile connections, following on from the 4G networks currently used by smartphones across the globe.

As the name suggests, this is the fifth generation of the network technology.

How fast will 5G be?

There is no official speed standard for 5G, but many experts state it could be 10 times faster than 4G – and therefore potentially faster than home fibre broadband.

Various companies have carried out 5G trials in a number of environments – such as BT and Huawei, who managed to deliver a consistent download speed of 2.8Gbps.

Although this is good progress, these kind of lab tests do not necessarily reflect what the public will be able to experience when things like interference and distance come into play.

“5G is a next-gen network technology that should deliver speeds of up to 10Gbps – on paper, that’s considerably faster than 4G’s top-end speed of 300Mbps,” explained Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com.

“In practice though, as we’ve seen with 4G, the speeds will likely be well below that but real-world tests do show it’s still much quicker than its predecessor.

“Where you’ll see a real difference with 5G is in the speeds you can download UltraHD and 3D video. At 5G’s theoretical top speed, you could download an entire 25GB UltraHD movie in about 20 seconds.”

Tests have shown 5G will be much quicker than its predecessor 4G Credit: Lauren Hurley/PA

What are the benefits of 5G?

The most obvious benefit to people will be faster, more reliable connections on their smartphones and other mobile devices, but the network technology will also improve services in other areas.

Healthcare is one of them – experts suggest the power of 5G could enable doctors to carry out remote surgery. Ericsson, King’s College London and a group of other researchers have already demonstrated how 5G could be used to examine patients remotely, meaning experts can use a sensory glove no matter where they are.

5G will allow paramedics to video-conference for expert advice on treatments Credit: Chris Radburn/PA

The West Midlands, which recently won a bid to be the UK’s first large-scale testbed for 5G, is planning to see how 5G can be used on ambulances across the region, providing paramedic crews with access to specialist advice using video conferencing and live streaming of patient data to the hospital en route.

In manufacturing, 5G could also a game changer. Audi recently announced it is working with Ericsson to test 5G-powered robots that may be used to build the cars of tomorrow.

How does 5G work?

5G is made up of unique radio frequencies that are broken up into bands. These frequencies are a lot higher than 4G, so can support a bigger capacity.

“5G tech also has the capacity to handle the surge in demand for bandwidth generated by the Internet of Things boom,” Mr Doku added.

“5G is considered a millimetre wave technology – with a shorter wavelength than 4G, it has a higher frequency, which gives it a higher bandwidth and consequently ability to handle more data.”

When will 5G come to the UK?

Neil Blagden, Vodafone UK’s director of digital and commercial operations, gives a talk before the UK’s first 5G holographic call as part of Vodafone’s 5G trials staged between Manchester and Newbury Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

There’s no definite date for the arrival of 5G in the UK and it’s worth remembering that there are not even any 5G-capable smartphones available yet.

“It’s widely expected that 5G will arrive in the UK in 2020 with the spectrum auction already well under way,” Mr Doku said.

“Back in April, O2 won the lion share, taking the entire 2.3 GHz spectrum and a significant portion of 3.4 GHz spectrum too.”