What is 5G, when is it coming, and what is LG doing to help?
By James W. 01.03.2019
Everything you need to know about 5G, from speed and latency, to how you will use it and how LG is involved.
You may well have heard 5G being described as the next big thing for smartphones, connected devices, cars, and even entire cities. But while it seems you can’t turn a corner online without being confronted by more 5G hype, it isn’t always easy to learn about exactly what it is, and why we should all be getting so excited about it.
Thankfully, LG Mag is here to help you get up to speed with 5G and understand exactly what all the fuss is about. From phones and wearables, to smart home tech, robotics, gaming, connected cars, and even entire cities, 5G is going to be something of a phenomenon.
What is 5G?
To break this right down to its simplest form, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile phone technology. It comes after 2G, 3G and 4G, and each brought huge increases in mobile internet download speeds. You may remember starting out with a 2G phone, which could access the basic WAP internet but not much more.
Next came 3G in the early noughties, which made the real internet accessible on mobile phones and via USB dongles for the very first time. Video calling was possible too, but the speeds were still moderate.
Then came 4G a decade later, bringing with it mobile internet which was as fast - or often even faster - than home broadband. It meant HD movie streaming was possible without Wi-Fi, and files downloaded in seconds.
Initially, the jump to 5G will have a similar impact. Mobile download speeds will reach huge new heights, with files downloading in the blink of an eye and multiplayer mobile gaming feeling as buttery-smooth as it does on a console at home.
5G will also be hugely beneficial to rural areas, which have until now suffered from slow wired internet connections that are too expensive to upgrade. With 5G, instead of waiting for a pricey fibre line to be installed in the local village, rural communities will be able to connect to the mobile internet and enjoy download speeds well above what’s available in almost any home today.
How fast is 5G?
Networks are currently testing 5G hardware in their labs, and will begin to build small test networks in cities soon. This makes it tricky to predict, for example, how fast 5G will be for consumers, as there are still plenty of unknowns to iron out.
However, UK network EE has conducted lab trials with a consistent download speed of 2.8Gbps - that’s 2,800Mbps, compared to the average 4G download speed of around 20-30Mbps in the UK. It has even been claimed that 5G networks could reach 50Gbps.
Put simply, 5G is going to be significantly faster, and offer a jump in performance far greater than the shift from 3G to 4G. And one of the reasons for this is the change in latency.
What is latency?
It’s all very good having ultra-fast download times, but if the message requesting the download - your smartphone asking for a TV show from Netflix, for example - is slow, then there’s still going to be a delay.
This chunk of time - from you tapping on the screen to the show beginning to play - is called the latency of a connection. In other words, it’s the round trip from the device, app or web browser, to the server, and back. Naturally, you want this time to be as close to zero as possible, because no matter how fast the network (how great its bandwidth) is, a large latency time will cause a bottleneck and slow everything down.
Thankfully, 5G networks promise to have very low latency, meaning requests for data will be sent to the server and returned to the device very quickly. Latency for 4G networks is around 50 milliseconds, but a criteria for 5G networks is that they must have a real-world latency (so not just in the test lab) of one millisecond.
Why is 5G and latency such a big deal?
Low latency is good for consumers who want to catch up on the latest TV show in a hurry, but 5G networks are about much more than smartphone users. Low latency will improve video gaming, especially when it comes to virtual reality and augmented reality systems. For these, low latency is crucial to make the experience feel believable, as it needs to keep up with the movements of the wearer of the VR headset.
Connected and autonomous cars will also benefit from low latency, as the signal from a car’s sensors can travel to the server and back far more quickly. The data collected by one vehicle - about an obstruction in the road ahead, for example - can be uploaded to the server and shared with following vehicles instantly, thanks to the low latency and large bandwidth 5G networks will offer.
Which countries are using 5G, and when will it be available?
No 5G networks are currently available to consumers, but they are expected to arrive in some capacity before the end of 2019, then expand throughout 2020 and the following decade. It is estimated that up to 32 percent of North American mobile connections will be using 5G by 2023, and that 1.5 billion will be using 5G globally by 2024, on networks which will cover 40% of the world’s population.
Naturally, the booming Chinese market will be responsible for much of this growth, with networks competing to beat each other to the punch. Around 40 million 5G connections are expected in China by the end of 2020, growing to one billion by 2025.
In the UK, EE plans to launch a 5G service in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester later in 2019, before expanding to hundreds more locations in 2020.
What is LG doing with 5G?
LG wants to be at the forefront when it comes to getting 5G into your hands, which will be made possible thanks to partnerships with mobile carriers across the globe. This includes deals with mobile networks building 5G services across the US and EU, including Vodafone, Sprint, Verizon and others.
At the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the year’s biggest phone show which takes place in Barcelona this month, LG presented a 5G zone on its stand, where visitors can learn more about how 5G from LG will improve their daily lives. This included how 5G will be used for self-driving cars, smart factories, educational augmented reality content for children, and to improve gaming and TV viewing experiences.
For more on what LG has planned for the 5G evolution, and how you can get yourself into the smartphone fast lane, stay tuned to LG Mag and check out the latest LG devices on LG.com.