The 5G network: When will it launch and what is it?

Swedish telecoms powerhouse Ericsson is taking things to the next level with a push toward a 5G network, leaving 3G and 4G firmly behind.

Saffiya Ansari
Saffiya Ansari - Al Arabiya News, Stockholm
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The internet has come a long way. More than a third of the world’s population is online, smart devices are growing ever-more popular, and mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to grow to 7.9 billion by 2019 from the current 2.9 billion.

Swedish telecoms powerhouse Ericsson is taking things to the next level with a push toward a 5G network, leaving 3G and 4G firmly behind.

However, fully enabled 5G has not yet been realized. Technology innovators are working to increase coverage and data speeds, but no international standards have yet been agreed upon.

“We’re spending a lot of time on 5G,” Sarah Mazur, Ericsson’s global head of research, said at a Nov. 6 panel discussion in Sweden.

“It’s expected that there will be fully enabled 5G networks by 2020, but the gradual evolution to 5G has already begun.”

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The International Telecommunication Union allows carriers to dub anything 4G if it offers a “substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities” over 3G. We can thus speculate that 5G will be any network that is better than 4G.

Mazur said 5G would most likely be used for industry applications such as operating heavy machinery from a distance, and could even be used for machine-operated surgeries.

However, in January South Korea’s Science Ministry said it planned to introduce a next-generation 5G wireless service capable of downloading full-length films in a second, highlighting possible benefits to the individual consumer.

The ministry said it would invest $1.5 billion in local firms working on the service, and aims to make it commercially available by the end of the decade.

The Guardian reported that South Korea’s planned 5G network will allow users to download an 800-megabyte movie in one second.

However, users may have to buy a new smart phone as analysts say existing mobile devices are not equipped to take advantage of 5G technology.

“Japan and South Korea are pushing very hard for 5G,” Mazur said, “and that could be linked to the upcoming Olympics. There’s also a strong push from the United States, so it’s difficult to tell who’ll be first.”

Mazur added that by 2020, with the advance of 5G networks, mobile data volumes are expected to increase 1,000-fold compared to today.

She also predicts five times lower latency and 10 times more battery life for low-power devices.

Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg said the data opportunities are “enormous,” and “speed will only go up and inclusion will only increase.

“The 21st century has to have a digital platform. Competition between countries will be based on competition between their digital platforms.”

In the push for 5G, industry experts say it is likely to require many more base stations, including smaller stations employing a range of radio technologies, to ensure better coverage.

Also, faster connectivity is set to be facilitated by multiple input, multiple output technology, which uses several small antennae to service individual data streams.

It may be a few years away, but the implications of 5G are already getting tech-lovers excited.

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