What is 5G?

There’s been a lot of disinformation doing the rounds about the dangers of 5G – from tales of Chinese spyware to the spreading of coronavirus – all of which are completely wide of the mark.

But what exactly is 5G? And how will it change the face of communications and connectivity?

What is 5G?

5G is fifth-generation mobile internet, and will offer fast data download and upload speeds, alongside more stable connections and wider coverage.

The UK’s 5G network was switched on on May 30, 2019, with EE the first provider to offer it.

It’s designed to make better use of the current radio spectrum to increase the capacity of radio masts to ensure that more people can connect at once without any disruption to the service.

Upload and download speeds are expected to be as much as ten times faster than 4G to begin with, and even faster as the technology matures – expect to download movies in a matter of seconds and latency issues will become a thing of the past, so when you tap on a link or button, it immediately gets to work.

In short, everything you can currently do with your smartphone will be faster and better.

It’s not all about smartphones though, gamers and streamers will no longer feel the frustration of lag and buffering, while the technology should accelerate the adoption of driverless vehicles, which will utilise the tech to better communicate with each other and read live map and traffic data.

What’s with the 5G conspiracy theories?

It’s not clear where or why the rumours started, but 5G has been credited with being a huge Chinese spying network to a vehicle for spreading coronavirus. Neither of which are in any way true or plausible.

The Chinese spyware stories seemed to emanate from the links between Huawei, a world-leader in creating 5G infrastructure, and the Chinese government. The main critic of the firm appeared to be the Trump administration in the US – so take from that what you will – and the UK saw no issue in giving the tech giant a contract to provide 5G.

Although BT is removing Huawei equipment from the core of its 5G network, as well as from infrastructure used by emergency services.

It’s anyone guess where the stories linking 5G masts to the spread of coronavirus came from, but they seem to have resonated with parts of the population as 5G masts have been destroyed while communication workers have been abused for simply going about their job.

This podcast from the Guardian explains why the rumour may have gained traction.

How to get 5G

Your ability to get 5G will depend upon your network operator and the area of the UK you live in:

  • EE kicked off the 5G revolution by providing coveragein the busiest areas of Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester. It will subsequently be rolling it out across Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
  • Vodafone’s 5G network is available in parts of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London, and it will soon be switched on in Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.
  • O2 is rolling out its 5G coverage in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London across 2019, when it will also be adding more locations as the year goes on.
  • Three claims to be building the UK’s fastest 5G network and, by the end of 2019, will have rolled it out in the following locations: London, Bolton, Birmingham, Bristol, Bradford, Reading, Liverpool, Rotherham, Glasgow, Slough, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Leeds, Brighton, Manchester, Coventry, Cardiff, Derby, Hull, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Nottingham.

You may also need a new, 5G-enabled phone to be able to make the most of the coverage.  If your smartphone has a 5G modem installed, then you’ll be able to access the tech. 5G-enabled phones include the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, LG’s V50 and the Oppo Reno 5G.

Amazingly, Apple aren’t expected to have a 5G compatible smartphone until sometime in 2020.

How else will 5G affect communications?

One of the biggest gripes for internet users in the UK is that the signal in rural areas simply isn’t strong enough. Unfortunately, 5G won’t solve this problem, as it works on high-frequency bands that have greater capacity but a relatively short range – that’s why it will solve connectivity issues  in crowded urban areas, but not necessarily in more sparsely-populated rural areas.

If you think it’ll signal the end of fixed-line internet services, think again – too much money has been invested in super-fast broadband services to switch off services now, so expect home and business broadband services to be hard-wired for the foreseeable suture. Fixed wireless solutions will be available though, to increase speed and reduce downtime.

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