News about 5G and its capabilities paint vivid pictures in peoples’ minds: the promise of new level mobile networking is tantalizing: blazing fast data downloads and uploads, wider coverage and more stable connections.

While 5G is clearly an upgrade to the ubiquitous, household 3G, 3.5G and 4G standards, the actual applications of the 5G technology go far beyond mobiles. In fact, during a San Diego press event back in February, Qualcomm’s demos showcased a number of practical applications of the 5G technology that had little to do with smartphones.

Firstly, not many smartphones are capable of 5G speeds at the moment. The ones that do include Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Motorola Moto Z3 5G and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, and a few other announced devices sporting the 5G moniker.

But is all the 5G hype justified?

The new network standard is not just a blind pursuit of higher speeds. It’s all about making better, more efficient use of the radio spectrum for the ever-growing network infrastructure. With 5G in place, more data can be sent in a shorter time, which essentially means more devices can access the mobile internet at the same time, and have faster transfers.

There are three sets of use cases defined for 5G:

Gigabit speeds

The claims about 5G’s speed are rather bold for now – providers say the network would enable well over 10 gigabit bandwidth. While we know it’s certainly not there yet (and we know Qualcomm itself struggled above 10 gigabits in the demo), we should expect the infrastructure to get to that point in the coming years.

5G speeds can, for example, enable users to download a film in a matter of seconds. Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) basically means better access to multimedia content, services and data.

Better data exchange between low-power devices

5G also brings Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) – better, prioritized data exchanges among low-power devices. This will boost the development of IoT in cities, and help autonomous cars communicate with each other in a speedy, reliable way.

Low-latency communication

Besides faster movie downloads, we should expect the higher speeds of 5G networking to redefine what we consider as low latency. This will not only impact video streaming experience but also improve other, more demanding virtual reality apps that stream content to standalone headsets.

Understandably, 5G’s low latency also translates to a faster access to documents, photos and files in the cloud, and all the other stuff people do on their mobiles. Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) will help in applications with strict levels of availability and latency: autonomous vehicles, public safety, industrial control, robotics and drones, remote medical surgeries.

Adoption of 5G around the world

Countries around the world are slowly adopting 5G: South Korea, Japan, China and the USA are leading the charge. Europe is taking significant steps to follow the trend towards 5G:

  • Swisscom is working with Ericsson to set up the necessary 3.5GHz network hardware to start providing 5G country-wide. Once Swisscom gains relevant licenses from Switzerland’s Federal Office of Communications, the service will launch in Switzerland.
  • Vodafone, Spain’s second-largest mobile operator is rolling out the 5G network in the country using Huawei network hardware.
  • 5G may take some time (and lobbying) to launch in Poland. The technology is hitting a wall in the form of legislation: low electromagnetic norms for telecoms networks make it impossible for operators to make serious steps towards implementing 5G in Poland, says Orange Poland CEO Jean-Francois Fallacher.  

Why 5G matters for the TV industry

We are witnessing a steady transition to streaming TV. The more devices connect and the higher resolution is the content, the faster networks we need to carry the data. It is estimated that video will make up for 74% of all mobile network traffic by 2024. Much of this traffic will come from mobile phones – Ericsson suggests that by 2024 every single smartphone in the USA will account for an estimated 50GB of data transfer monthly – compared to the current average of 8.6GB.

5G will accelerate the adoption of pay TV and mobile content consumption. It may finally bridge cable TV with streaming. 5G will not only change how people consume media, but also how media is produced:

  • 5G will reduce the cost of and simplify broadcast infrastructure. Today’s live events with remote production require very complicated and expensive setups – wireless cameras with video relays to outside-broadcasting vans at the venue and satellite or fixed links to studios. This scenario can be greatly simplified using 5G.
  • Reporters at live events already use smartphones to report from remote areas and breaking-news events: 5G will make it even easier and offer them to stream higher fidelity videos.
  • Latency has always been an issue in live broadcasts. Adoption of 5G in the TV industry promises streaming television that’s actually live – today’s streaming sports events are often tens of seconds behind the actual live feed. 5G promises to change this.

Final words

5G is not just a bit faster. It’s more about bullet-proofing the whole cellular infrastructure – in a number of ways – against the proliferation of connected devices sending and receiving high-fidelity content in real time. On top of that, 5G also brings a layer that streamlines and prioritizes IoT communication, from wearables to smart street lights, promising to make them work at close-to-zero latency.

5G bears many characteristics of disruptive technologies – we are all quite certain that it will transform data transfers, but the exact net effect our lives is still unknown. There will be many exciting use cases, although most of them are unconceived of today. Faster, ubiquitous and low-latency networking will certainly redefine our entertainment, but also pave the way for innovation in health, commuting, and the environment around us.

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