Once upon a time, the 3G icon next to your smartphone’s signal bars was a rare, coveted, but welcome site. Prior to that, 2G or ‘EDGE’ was frankly terrible, and in England particularly, mobile networks were definitely not keeping pace with the advancement of mobile tech.
Here we are 15 years later, and we’ve seen a jump from 2mbps to 10gbps, with latency being slashed from 250ms to less than 10ms. In short, 5G is 5,000 times faster than 3G. This isn’t a stat that is wildly thrown about, as there are far too many variables, such as service plan, coverage, device and so on. But we can all agree that 5G is blisteringly fast, and with some of us already in possession of compatible hardware, it is slowly finding its way into the hands of the user.
It’s still early days though. 5G holds only 4% market share in North America, with 4G claiming a 77% majority. It’s a steady global rollout, so on a consumer level, it may be a while until 5G comes to your town or city. The benefits to you and I are clear – greater download (and upload) speeds, which makes data-heavy usage like Netflix and YouTube more ‘blistering’ than ‘buffering’. It also means that we are better connected when outside of wifi, making tasks like video conferencing, cloud storage and file transfers a lot less maddening.
But there’s a whole other layer of value on a B2B level. What does 5G mean for businesses across the next decade? Let’s break it down by segment. Based on statistics by McKinsey & Company, here’s a 2030 forecast for unit sales.
- Industry 4.0 – 22.3m
Autonomous systems in factories, warehouses and goods hubs.
- Smart cities – 8.4m
Traffic systems, safety cameras, smart motorways, environmental monitoring.
- Smart energy – 5.1m
Smart control across the grid, and energy site monitoring.
- Connected offices – 4.2m
Video surveillance, building sensors, facilities management systems.
- Smart Security – 2.6M
Border security, emergency services
- Connected health – 2m
Mobile medical monitoring, wearables, remote surgery.
Wait, what? Remote surgery? This is just one of the revolutionary benefits of bringing high-speed mobile internet to areas where hard-wired or wifi is not possible. This is a great example of innovation and what can be achieved with low-latency mobile connections. Remote surgery breaks down geographical barriers, meaning that surgeons can operate on patients in entirely different parts of the world, and they can operate on patients in inaccessible places such as battlefields or disaster relief areas.
With innovation also comes employment. Despite 5G being a technological breakthrough, it’s not all being handed over to robots and algorithms. In China alone, employment through 5G technology is expected to reach 10.9m by 2035. Combined with the rest of the world (including an estimated 519,000 in the UK), the global employment impact of 5G is expected to create in excess of 22.3m additional jobs by 2035.
Source: IHS Market, 2019
What industries will benefit from 5G?
Honestly, all of them. Broadband didn’t revolutionise internet access, and I don’t think it ever promised to do so. Hundreds if not thousands of villages in the UK alone are still petitioning for a single fibre or ADSL line, not to mention parts of the world where even a phone line is a luxury.
5G will bring enhanced mobile connectivity to not only these areas, but to industries such as arts and entertainment, education and manufacturing, where it will have a high impact. These are industries that for the most part have been able to utilise the internet as it’s evolved, staying abreast of new technologies. But there are industries where the benefit isn’t in the enhancement of the mobile broadband itself, but just simply being able to use 5G on a basic level for mission critical service. These are industries such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, healthcare, social work and transport. Industries where this is a huge step up for services that many are reliant on.
Is it really as good as or better than wifi?
Not the easiest question to answer, as your wifi experience can range from ultra-fast to ultra-frustrating depending on a number factors, again, such as hardware, service provider, devices, and so on. Your wifi experience at the BT Tower, for instance, won’t be quite the same as your wifi experience at a low-rate youth hostel on the outskirts of Middlesbrough.
Wifi 6 straight-up beats 5G in terms of speed, there’s no arguing that. But 5G takes the crown in just about every other area. Range – 5G wins when it comes to coverage. Latency and reliability – again, 5G aces it. Number of device connections – 5G a clear winner. And perhaps most importantly, device power consumption. 4G and below was not kind to batteries, but 5G boasts greater efficiency in this area, making it truly mobile and a lot more versatile too, particularly when looking at mobile-first IoT devices.
What does it mean for us as an agency?
Younger us would say “Cool, let’s make our websites and apps bigger and better!”. Mature/seasoned us have a better understanding of the wider benefits of 5G. Sure, we can turn things up to 11 and add more cow bell. But that’s not why we do what we do.
We’re a fourth sector agency, and you’ll see from our last two or three blogs, we’ve already addressed the world beyond our doorsteps, streets and cities – a world where a smartphone, or even electricity, is a luxury.
The work we want to do is in the places where we can improve lives for the better, use technology for good, and have a positive social impact. And whilst the speed of 5G is certainly exciting to us as developers and engineers, the real benefits are in the range, the energy efficiency and the reliability.
Mobile internet has cemented itself in our modern day lives as a utility alongside gas or water, in places where broadband couldn’t quite achieve the same status. We hope that with fair funding, universal accessibility and lower barriers for entry, parts of the world that are crying out for connectivity can achieve 5G connectivity, and we can help too, whether through an app, a platform or any form of digital product or solution.