The UK’s 5G Revolution Gathers Pace

A large 5G network, offered by one of the UK’s leading mobile network operators has now gone live in six cities – a first for the nation. London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester are the six areas which will first benefit from the next generation of mobile data technology, with more cities to follow later in the year.

The launch is a first step towards full commercial availability of 5G mobile data across the country, a stage we’re estimated to reach in mid-2020 following a steady rollout of services over the next year. Ten more UK cities – Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield – are set to see their own 5G services launch before the close of 2019.

While it’s currently impossible to say definitively what speeds will be achievable on the new network once it reaches its full capacity, it’s clear that 5G’s speeds will significantly surpass what can currently be achieved with 4G. A minimum expectation places 5G’s speeds at 10x as fast as 4G, and will look at data transfer speeds in the gigabits per second range.

However, the network launches won’t benefit a great many users at this early stage. While the communications watchdog Ofcom has suggested that in time 5G may offer astonishing speeds of 20Gbps, the current fibre lines being used to link each 5G site to its network in the UK have a total capacity of just 10Gbps, which inevitably must be shared around users. That means on average that users will achieve about 150-200Mbps downloads at launch – very good, but not quite groundbreaking.

Coverage is currently restricted to a few small areas of the launch cities, and only a select few handsets are 5G capable, which currently reflects in their premium pricing, and those of their contracts. For many consumers, it may make sense to wait, as rates will eventually become more competitive as other mobile data networks offer their own 5G options.

The Future of 5G And WiFi

To hear some of the hype currently surrounding 5G technology, technology enthusiasts might make the mistake of assuming the plucky mobile data upstart (5G) will replace the seasoned veteran (WiFi) of connectivity in short order. But this is unlikely to happen soon, if at all, as we’ve previously discussed. For one thing, new generations of WiFi technology will offer similarly breathtaking speeds, and with greater reliability (when properly installed as a blanket network). WiFi 6 will offer speeds up to four times faster than current rates, as well as supporting many more devices on a single, robust network.

And the process of seeing truly remarkable speeds on 5G devices will be a long one, even when equipped with the few devices and contracts that currently support its use. Though 5G is expected to be able to one day deliver latencies of one millisecond or less – compared with the 30-70ms latency speeds of 4G, things won’t be anywhere close to that level to start. Latency will start at around 20 milliseconds at launch, and will halve within the next decade.

5G promises to eventually gain the capacity to support more than a million devices per square kilometre (0.4 square miles); 4G could only muster 60,000 or so. That could aid the implementation of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, as part of a smart city management project. But that would require blanket coverage, with antennas perched on every lamppost or bus shelter – a feat that’s some distance away.

Even current WiFi connections have not been ousted by 4G LTE networks in our urban centres, with many users still opting to connect to free, blanket services offered by many local authorities and private businesses. The connection is more reliable, and usually faster too. For example, the WiFi service we provide in Edinburgh is, and remains, highly utilised, with over a million users to date, despite the Scottish capital boasting widespread 4G coverage (and now a 5G testbed).

The most likely future outcome is that 5G and WiFi 6 will co-exist in our urban environments. Rather than competing with one another, the two will intertwine and form a collaborative network that ensures all devices can be connected all the time across a superfast, low latency but still a reliable and robust digital connection. This, in turn, will deliver the Smart City projects that will be needed to sustainably and effectively manage the urban spaces of the future.  

Get In Touch

Whether you’re a local authority looking to provide public WiFi or seeking a connectivity solution for Smart Cities, the IoT or 5G / Small Cells in your town or city, or if you are interested in partnering with us around the Connected City Platform in any of our forthcoming town and city roll-outs, we’d love to explain more about who we are and what we do.

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