Melbourne knowledge week
Melbourne Knowledge Week

What is 5G and what does the future of mobile technology hold?

By Amy Gray

For those of us still dreaming of an NBN connection,5G can feel irrelevant. But as always, it’s worth sorting out the facts from the hype surrounding this new innovation.

For two years, my modem has allowed two connections – stock standard wifi and wifi with 5G-flavour. When I saw the 5G option pop up on my devices, I didn’t know if it actually worked, or what 5G even meant. It seemed to work the same as the regular wifi – same download speeds, same modem, there was seemingly nothing different except for the name.

So, what is 5G?

5G stands for 5th generation mobile internet connectivity. As the latest generation, it’s meant to deliver incredibly fast downloads, uploads and maybe even remove that internet dead-spot in your house, promising to be able to upload and download 1 giga-byte per second.

That’s three episodes of The Office. Per second.

Perhaps you will be able to download a full-length feature film within 2 minutes, have your game lag less when you’re on raids or your connection won’t stall when you’re in crowded, built-up areas. It might even mean we have mobile internet connectivity that helps autonomous cars talk to one another and avoid accidents.

What is the Internet of Things?

Where 5G can really shine is with internet-connected machines that process and gather information, a.k.a. “Internet of Things” (IoT). We increasingly rely on internet-connected devices for all manner of personal, professional and community reasons from our fridges, security systems, home assistance systems, smart locks and heating/cooling systems. 5G is supposed to help with the burden of all these new connections, as it is built to  balance the load we put on the system, maintaining fast response rates and ensuring there is no lag. 

5G’s ability to create a number of “virtual networks” within a single 5G network. It does this by figuring out how much access each  connected machine needs, and whether it needs a fast connection with instant response and no lag (like temperature control or air filtration systems) or something you may only occasionally use (like a home entertainment robot). It then separates these devices and their systems into different portions of the network.

In short, 5G is faster, more powerful internet. How much is this really going to change our lives?

What is the point?

The development of this new network could help with autonomous self-driving cars who need to process a lot of information inputs and outputs, like GPS, weather or assessing risk. Thinking even further ahead, IoT-enabled surgery is a possibility with good 5G coverage, which could mean people in remote areas could be operated on or treated by machines which are remotely controlled by medical professionals in another location. 

While many of these benefits come from the speed and strength y of internet connection, other beneficial aspects include incredibly low energy consumption which would make it easier and cheaper to run IoT technology. These IoT technologies could then complete tasks such as analysing soil, monitoring weather conditions or the health of livestock, or running crucial irrigation systems, all at a fraction of the energy cost that these tasks would usually require.  

What is the reality?

The kind of IoT activity described above are real, but it is still a little way off. What’s more likely for now is that we’ll have fewer disconnections or glitches when streaming or making video calls. There are potential problems, too – while 5G may be faster and possibly even cheaper than other internet connections, this new ease of use could see us busting through our data caps faster than before. With increased efficiency will have to come increased awareness. .

That perspective is important because, when it’s first introduced, 5G may not seem all that different. And  4G (our current system) won’t go away immediately, as it will still outperform 5G in remote areas for the first little while. Given spotty mobile and internet coverage around Australia, this means access isn’t necessarily accessible for all. 5G will not transform our lives overnight; it will be introduced incrementally, until it feels like the new normal.

How do I get it?

In Melbourne, 5G has already been rolled out in the inner-city and the suburbs surrounding Melbourne Airport. 

If you’re in those areas and want to jump on board, you’ll need a 5G-enabled device that is on an appropriate mobile or ISP plan. 

So far the only mobile equipped to handle a 5G network is the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, but more will definitely follow within the next year. Optus is slowly rolling out in Sydney and Vodafone will wait until 2020. It’s not likely resellers will be able to offer 5G anytime soon, especially given it took years for 4G to become available. 

So, while some ISPs are offering 5G plans, it’s better to wait for Australia’s telcos to become efficient adapters before you become an early adopter.

Join us for Melbourne Conversations: 5G Zero Latency next Monday 21 October to continue to explore 5G with us. 

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