14 January 2019
Over a decade has passed since we first began talking about 5G. It was back in 2008, when NASA teamed up with Machine-to-Machine Intelligence Corp (M2Mi) to develop the new communication technology. And though 5G networks are not yet operational, many countries are already preparing the necessary infrastructure and a substantial number of companies are experimenting with different projects. The launch of the 5G connection is expected by the end of 2022 – and there’s a good reason behind the choice of date. 5G networks will use the 700 MHz frequency band, which is the one currently used by television broadcasters. But in 2022, the system will switch to DVB-T2, meaning that the 700 MHz band will be free to be used to develop the new 5G network.
What is 5G?
5G is an acronym of 5th Generation and refers to the fifth generation of mobile telephone communications. Currently, the fastest connection available is LTE 4G – but the new 5G network will have a download speed of up to 1000 times faster than current 4G connections.
The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance – which brings together producers of devices which use mobile networks, sellers, telephony operators and research institutes – is responsible for analysing the global rollout of 5G. The move has two main objectives: to increase connection speeds and improve the quality of service. In order to achieve this, it’s necessary to minimise the latency period, or the time between the moment a command is given to a device that uses the mobile network to the moment the device executes that command.
Asia leads the way
Asia appears to be at the forefront of the development of 5G. The first telephone company to claim they had developed a 5G system was South Korea’s Samsung, while it was Nippon Telegraph and Telephone that actually launched the world’s first 5G network, in Japan.
In China, Huawei and ZTE have invested several hundred million dollars into 5G over the years. Thanks to the Made in China 2025 programme unveiled by Chinese president Xi Jinping, technological development has been given prime importance in the country. Chinese companies are also amongst the most active in the world when it comes to setting up research centres overseas, including in Italy.
5G in the USA and Europe
The United States is also home to dozens of experimental projects, with the lion’s share carried out by companies such as Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. Europe, on the other hand, appears to be lagging behind – despite the research projects that the European Commission began launching in 2014. According to analysts at Morgan Stanley, European companies are having to deal with stricter regulatory and bureaucratic restrictions than their competitors in Asia and the USA. Nonetheless, French company Orange and Sweden’s Ericsson are among Europe’s most active players in the development of 5G.
According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group entitled A Playbook for Accelerating 5G in Europe, 4G will no longer be able to satisfy the demand for data in major cities come 2021. Yet as a result of draining price wars and falling revenue, telecommunications companies could struggle to roll out 5G networks quickly enough. As we’ve seen, Europe is behind the 5G curve and companies lack the necessary funds to implement the network. Analysts believe that in order to guarantee the service, we will need to triple infrastructural density (i.e. the number of repeaters and antennae), an impractical prospect given the costs, timescales and level of unpopularity associated with such a move. Quite simply, the introduction of 5G could make things a whole lot worse.