4G LTE has delivered exciting experiences to consumers: fast internet browsing, high-definition video streaming, smooth and reliable video conferencing (most of the time), and online gaming. Mobile infrastructure takes a leap every nine or ten years, and 4G LTE first went live in 2009 (Stockholm and Oslo) followed by a 2010 launch in the USA and (eventually) the UK in 2012.
Now phone designers and telecom providers are edging towards 5G deployment. But what does 5G mean for mobile developers and billions of end-users who could benefit from new mobile experiences? Faster mobile internet is surely expected, but it’s just one of the game-changing benefits.
How fast is 5G?
5G’s real-world speed will depend heavily on infrastructure, but tests so far are impressive. Here are rough speed benchmarks:
- 3G technology can hit 2Mbps.
- 4G technology averages 20 Mbps globally (although Norway and Iceland reach 65Mbps).
- 5G could run at 10 to 50Gbps – and potentially even higher.
5G has reached 1 terabit per second in a test environment (around 65,000 times faster than 4G). But for a more realistic scenario, the UK’s EE network achieved consistent 2.8Gbps in a lab designed to simulate a real-world environment.
Speed isn’t the only benefit of 5G
Faster internet can drive quicker loading times, which enables 4K streaming and blazing-fast file transfers. Great news for media consumers and businesses – although they’re somewhat predictable advances. However, 5G also packs two massive advantages that might not be as marketing-friendly – but which could allow developers to build new classes of platforms and apps, which will change our lives.
Latency cut to near-zero
Delays could be deadly if you’re trying to control machines and make critical decisions in real-time. 5G should feature near-zero latency. 4G’s average of 50 milliseconds should (eventually) be sliced to just one millisecond by 5G – a benchmark set by the GSMA. Quick website loads will be nice. But responsive virtual reality, connected autonomous cars and remote surgery are the real winners here.
Increased connection density
If you’ve tried to use mobile internet at a massive public event, you’ll understand why connection density matters. With its capacity, 4G supports around 2,000 connected devices per .38 square miles. As the average number of connected devices per-user increases (e.g. mobile-capable smartwatches), this number will become increasingly inadequate. And this is where 5G will play a critical role with the capability of supporting up to 1 million connected devices in the same space, which is great news for IoT (Internet of Things) developers.
What does 5G mean for mobile developers?
5G technology should usher in a new world of interconnected and always-on devices in our homes and businesses that share data in real-time and enjoy a new standard of speed and connection reliability.
Multimedia experiences like fast 4K streaming should be quick out of the gate. But high-risk technologies like fully-automated transport and remote control surgery will take time to develop, test and rollout.
eMBB (Enhanced Mobile BroadBand)
Media-rich experiences will be the first opportunities opened to developers by 5G.
If streaming 4K and 360° videos or mobile AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) to your users has seemed exotic and unrealistic, then get ready for this to change.
URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low-Latency Communications)
Real-time control of machines and other mission-critical tasks will arrive slightly later.
Achieving the 1Ms latency target is described as ‘one of the major challenges facing 5G networks’, as it ‘Introduces a plethora of challenges in terms of system design’. Technologies that enable URLLC are still being standardized and will be published and deployed in future 3GPP releases – enabling highly latency-sensitive tasks.
Real-time virtual reality gaming, connected autonomous cars, remote surgery and factory line automation are just some of the benefits that URLLC could offer. So, perhaps mature 5G standards will be worth the wait.
mMTC (Massive Machine Type Communication)
IoT (internet of things) devices don’t typically require high-speed internet – but are a specific focus of 5G infrastructure development nonetheless.
mMTC is a narrowband access type for large numbers of devices that sense, meter and monitor – and it allows them to use low amounts of power. Highlighting mMTC as one of three lead applications for 5G suggests that advances in energy-efficient sensory devices are likely.
Combined with the latency improvements and superior connected device density that 5G promises, IoT developers should enjoy rich connectivity possibilities as 5G matures.
When will 5G devices hit the market?
Network providers around the globe are testing 5G services in individual cities, and the first devices are expected for sale in early 2019. As for country, South Korea is first-to-market with a commercial 5G service, which went live on December 1st.
Most major manufacturers are expected to launch 5G smartphones in 2019. Here’s where several of the largest manufacturers stand on 5G smartphones at this exact moment:
Samsung and Verizon have announced their plan to release a 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019, though reports are conflicted over whether the device will be an S10.
A proof-of-concept phone will be unveiled at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii this week. Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem will power this phone and – likely – many of the first 5G phones that will hit the market in 2019.
However, Samsung is developing their own 5G modem – the Exynos 5100 – which is likely to be used for international variants of the 5G smartphone. But will Samsung’s folding, dual-screen Samsung smartphone also include 5G? Right now, anything seems possible.
At the Qualcomm 4G/5G summit in Hong Kong, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei confirmed that the Shenzen-based company have been experimenting with 5G technology and will be ready to introduce a 5G phone by the end of 2019. But this phone won’t be the OnePlus 7, according to a report from CNET. Instead, it will be part of a new range – or a special edition version of the OnePlus 6T or 7. It could even be unveiled at the McLaren and OnePlus ‘Salute to Speed’ launch event on December 11th.
Google hasn’t made any 5G announcements – but Verizon has. Verizon has been Google’s choice of carrier partner for several years and they’re planning to roll 5G services out in early 2019 – which opens the door for (presumably) the Pixel 4 to adopt 5G capabilities. October 2019 would match the Pixel’s launch schedule so far.
Apple is widely expected to wait until 2020 to release a 5G smartphone, according to Bloomberg. The company prefers to integrate cellular technologies when they feel able to deliver a smooth user experience. That’s why their original iPhone launched in 2007 without 3G (even though it was widely available) and the iPhone 5 was its first 4G phone, in 2012 – despite the technology being available for over a year in the United States.
However, Apple’s ongoing feud with Qualcomm could also be part of the reason. Instead, Apple is rumored to be leaning towards Intel 5G chips (they switched to Intel for the 2018 iPhone XS and XR models). Intel is late to the party and probably won’t launch their 5G-capable modem until early 2020.
It sounds like 2019 will only be the start of a long and evolving 5G revolution.
- Are you developing or testing new apps and technologies to take advantage of 5G?
- Could 5G open-up new possibilities for your existing products?
- How quickly do you think 5G will impact the digital landscape?