The next evolution of mobile data could be the last step-change we see in mobile data transmission – but when will 4G switch to 5G?
Mobile data use has rocketed over the past five years – increasing 74 per cent alone in 2015 – taking the overall global figure to around 3.7 exabytes per month.
Underpinning this explosion is the growth of streaming services, both audio and video, and people’s growing use of apps – all underwritten by the expectation of having a high-speed data connection at all times, even when away from Wi-Fi.
With 4G now entrenched as a global standard for our immediate future in developed markets, it is set to be usurped by 5G, but what does that mean for you? In short: faster speeds and more capacity, due to a more resilient network.
How much faster is 5G compared to 4G?
At first, 5G will likely average speeds of 100Mbps, which isn’t a huge step up from the maximum for networks already using LTE-Advanced, which tend to deliver download speeds of between 30-50Mbps in real-world conditions. In lab conditions, the technology most widely in use today can handle up to a theoretical maximum of 150Mbps. This maximum depends on the category of the device and connection, however. Category 4 LTE maxes out at 150Mbps, but Cat 9 goes up to a theoretical maximum of 450Mbps.
Just to confuse things a little further, due to the technical definitions of wireless technologies – and the lack of a universal standard – you could see LTE-Advanced marketed as 5G, or 4G+, or LTE-Advanced+ or by some other as yet undefined name. In summary, it’s a marked improvement but the exact numbers will vary.
How is it so much faster?
4G LTE-Advanced, 5G or whatever else you want to call it splits the data into bands, each of which has its own particular bandwidth limitations. By aggregating these different bands and pooling the bandwidth (essentially), the end-user should get speeds far closer to 100Mbps and beyond as the technology develops.
5G, however, could be the last step-change in mobile technology, with some predicting a more additive and iterative upgrade process would remove the need for a full jump to ‘6G’. The current process is one of evolution (rather than revolution) for both hardware and software, but one that’s aiming at a potential 100 times increase in speeds… eventually.
And when can we expect it to arrive?
As it stands now, 5G is expected to start rolling out globally sometime in 2020, with Ovum’s figures suggesting there will be 24 million 5G subscribers by 2021. It says that less than 10 per cent of those connections will be in Europe though. It could be even fewer than that if operators follow through on threats to delay 5G rollouts if strong net neutrality laws are adopted. Wired report.
Europe lagging a little behind isn’t too surprising – countries like South Korea have been considering the specifications, implementation and deployment of 5G since as far back as 2008. Previously, UK networks like a EE were looking at a 2022 time-frame for deploying the new standard; though that could theoretically move forward a little, it’s unlikely to be by much.
A formalised standard should be in place by 2018 ahead of early rollouts in 2020 – but as of now, there’s no single definition. This leads to a potential problem for both business and users.
To try and side-step some of these issues (largely incompatible hardware issues) various interested parties (handset manufacturers, the 3GPP and others) around the world are working together to ensure a non-fragmented user experience when it does arrive.
The main reason for ensuring global compatibility is that otherwise devices made for one country won’t necessarily work on the same spectrum bands in other countries. This is particularly vital for the success of the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected-devices in general; each of them will need a low-latency, high-capacity, and highly reliable connection to truly reach their potential.
The concession to this point of harmonisation is that LTE-Advanced/5G should be backwards compatible, provided the right groundwork is laid down ahead of the rollouts. For example, a device that supports Cat 4LTE, but not faster Cat9 will still use LTE-Advanced technology, but won’t get the full benefits of that carrier aggregation. It’ll still be a whole lot better than current 4G (and most certainly 3G) speeds though.
With live deployments not yet under way and technical terms still not yet defined, there’s still time for everything to change again before 5G actually arrives – and of course, there’s still time to introduce another completely new acronym.
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