What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation technology for mobile communications and is going to be the successor to 4G as 4G was to 3G back in 2009/2010. The main difference between 5G and 4G is speed. It is expected that 5G will be 100 times faster than 4G. Currently a full length movie can take around 6 minutes to download onto your phone via 4G. It is expected that it will only take around 30 seconds on 5G.
What does this mean in practice?
Once you have a 5G enabled device it is anticipated that the possibilities are very wide ranging. 5G users will experience quicker speeds and better latency which will mean that the smart cities, virtual reality and holographic calls will all be a reality in the not so distant future.
Given the shift this year in working from home, it is within the realms of possibility that we could be hosting holographic meetings rather than meeting in an office. Vodafone has already tested the first holographic phone call in the UK using 5G.
Consumers will be able to have truly smart homes, controllable via any 5G enabled device such as a phone, watch or tablet. Gamers will be able to use virtual reality headsets without any lags or delays.
Businesses will be able to manage their:
buildings, to optimise heating and lighting;
logistics such as electric driverless 5G trucks; and
manufacturing through augmented reality. For example, hands free augmented reality glasses can provide step by step instructions for the assembly of products.
Although it is still in its infancy, testing is being carried out for 5G in “smart cars” which will use real time data to assist in the prevention of road traffic accidents or help with logistics. Waiting unnecessarily at a red traffic light may be a thing of the past.
5G is not just going to be for mobile devices, it is thought to be able to rival broadband services.
5G is wireless so is less expensive to install than fibre. It will mean more flexibility for consumers such as not having to enter into wayleave agreements for the installation of fibre equipment and/or not entering into separate supply agreements for mobile services and broadband.
How do we compare to other countries?
5G signals use a higher radio wave frequency than 4G which means that providers of 5G will need to install lots of antennas (small microcells) on phone poles, buildings and street lamps. The further away you are from a 5G antenna the slower the speed will be so it is important that the antennas are located closely together to ensure the end user gets the full benefit.
The UK government is very committed to the implementation of 5G and has proposed a number of reforms to make it easier for 5G providers to have easy access to sites, relaxing usage restrictions on some existing ducts and implementing planning reforms such as permitting the installation of taller masts under Permitted Development Rights.
That said, in the UK, our complex land law and out-of-date infrastructure means that the installation of lots of antennas comes with other problems, such as the logistics of liaising and agreeing with numerous property owners, utility providers and businesses. There will be inevitable issues arising from this, including additional time taken to negotiate appropriate consents and even refusals. There may even be circumstances where planning permission will be required, as installation of some antennas will not be permitted under PDRs.
There is also the cost of installing the 5G network. There could be rural areas where 5G will probably never be available as the cost of installation will outweigh the low level of demand.
Additionally, in the UK the 5G network may be delayed by a few years following advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which has led to the UK government banning 5G providers from purchasing Huawei 5G equipment after 31 December 2020. The UK government also require all existing Huawei equipment to be
removed from the UK by 2027. Huawei is the world’s leading provider of antennas required for the 5G network. Other sources for this equipment must now be found.
Other countries will not experience the same issues as we face in the UK. South Korea is currently leading the way, as it has a national 5G network and expects 90% of mobile users to be on 5G 2026, compared to the UK’s target of 50% by 2027. China has made 5G a priority – it has a network in all major cities, but obviously China does not have the same security concerns as the UK. Japan started testing 5G in 2014 so is very advanced in the practicalities. Across the pond, the US is also leading the charge and, as of January 2020, had rolled out 5G in 50 cities.
The majority of European countries are testing 5G services and have been for a while. For example, Italy has been testing 5G infrastructure in Milan, Prato, L’Aquila, Bari and Matera since 2017.
Germany has rolled out 5G in major cities and Vodafone Germany has already steered the first driverless train using 5G.
The European Commission aims to launch 5G in all member states by the end of 2020.
There is clearly a long way to go in terms of getting the necessary infrastructure installed in the UK and consumers and business switching to 5G enabled devices before we can really see what the day to day benefits of 5G will be. The full advantages for international companies will only be fully realised once all countries they transact with have full 5G networks.
Meanwhile, China has just launched an experimental 6G satellite into space, with the aim of delivering 6G to Earth, so watch this space.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Estates Gazette.
Authored by Abbey Shepherd