5G technology: A triumph or a terror?

From dread to awe, the feelings surrounding 5G technology and its inevitable insertion into our everyday lives vary greatly. Besides being faster than its predecessors, what does 5G offer the world that’s causing so much buzz?

What is 5G?

The fifth generation. Let's take a look back at previous generations to see the origins of 5G technology.

1991: 2G networks were introduced and provided digital data service. Previously 1G networks were analogue, using radio signals, so the change to digital contributed to services still in use today such as SMS, conference calls, and call hold.

2001: 3G brought wireless internet access and high-speed data to our smartphones.

2009: 4G technology not only increased the speed of data delivery, but it provided high quality and high capacity to users, allowing widespread mobile internet usage.

2020: 5G with an incredible speed of 10 gigabits per second, is set to be the network for the Internet of Things (IoT), connecting countless smart devices which “talk to each other” and provide real-time analytics for greater efficiency in everyday life.

5G technology: how does 5G work?

5G operates on ultrafast broadband courtesy of fibre optic cables which transmits data via pulses of light on millimetre waves, previously only used by satellites. This means that this broadband can transfer information at the speed of light.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, millimetre wave (mmWave) high-frequency bands provide the large bandwidths that set 5G apart from 4G technology. 5G operates on different spectrum bands depending on the job at hand and technology available to it.

While lower frequency bands utilised by 4G cover greater distances, the millimetre waves of 5G provide fast coverage for smaller areas. This means that the millimetre waves emitted by 5G devices will travel faster, but they are not able to travel as far as they can only go a few hundred metres.

This is why the upgrade to 5G will require the installation of thousands of new base stations to meet coverage needs. Think antennas every hundred metres on shop windows, traffic lights and stadiums providing lightning-fast connection everywhere.

By 2050, two-thirds of the earth’s population will live in urban areas, and with our ever-growing global population owning more devices per person, the implementation of 5G everywhere will become a necessity.

Benefits of 5G

For almost a decade the tech industry has been speculating about what 5G will bring in tandem with IoT. 5G will offer to the everyday smartphone user:

  • Reduced latency (lag). Rather than switching between listening for and transmitting data, 5G base stations can do both at the same time on the same frequency, greatly reducing lag time (e.g. a video game’s inability to respond to changes made in the game in a timely manner).

  • Increased speed. At it’s best, 5G will be 100 times faster than current 4G technology. Download a 2-hour movie in under 4 seconds on 5G, compared to the 6 minutes required on 4G.

  • Higher resolution and larger bandwidth. Imagine watching a football game from the perspective of a player. Virtual and augmented reality headsets will be the next big thing with this. Trust us.

  • Higher system capacity. Imagine using your smartwatch while you download a video and text at the same time, all needing very little power.

5G Concerns

Harmful to health?

There are apprehensions about the unknown effects of 5G upon the human body. The main concerns stem from the fact that many small cell base stations will need to be installed in close proximity to people and that there haven’t been enough studies to test whether humans will remain unharmed by the many radio waves emitted.

However, most research reports have not found radio waves to cause any harmful effects on people.


5G will be bringing IoT to multiple devices via high-speed networks, especially to public networks.

This certainly creates an increased security risk for personal and private data as there are more access points for hackers to break into. And with faster speed, viruses and malware can spread even faster, upping the ante for threat management teams.

National policy will also heavily influence security measures. The US and Australia have refused to work with the world’s largest telecommunications equipment vendor, Huawei, citing reasons of espionage. The rest of the world is still unsure about how these countries will be able to afford 5G technology without the Chinese company.

But the UK, along with Germany, seem to have come up with a solution. They have agreed to work with Huawei in a limited capacity, disallowing the company to be involved in sensitive areas of the network it builds.

However, just as we’ve developed antiviruses for our computers, so there will also there be updates and antivirus installations for our 5G devices. 5G is coming and security will be an issue that needs tackling over time.

High cost

Developing the infrastructure for 5G will be costly, not to mention the hardware of 5G devices. Manufacturers of mobile devices will certainly pass down this cost to their consumers, particularly in the beginning.

Additionally, we’re consuming more data with every passing year, and it’s predicted that the average smartphone user will consume 21+ gigabytes of data per month by 2024. There’s no doubt that the data cost per person will certainly also increase.

The future with 5G

Smart cities

5G is not limited to mobiles.

Enhanced by the technology, smart cities will use IoT sensors to monitor things such as traffic, waste management and energy usage. The savings generated by these benefits alone are purported to save a smart city around 123 billion pounds.

On an individual level, a report by O2 predicts that 5G will help future households to save 450 GBP per year on energy usage, reduction of food waste and taxes.

5G technology

Almost every industry will be disrupted as smart devices, machine learning and real-time analytics connected via 5G will drive the decisions of the future.

For instance, in agriculture maintenance drones will likely take over crop production as they can sense weather patterns, collect visual data and harvest crops without humans setting a foot in the field.

And already set to come out in 2021, the BMW iNEXT is an electric SUV that surveys the road around it with sensors that collect the data and analyse it in tandem with real-time maps made from other clouds to the cloud. This will allow for autonomous “hands-off” driving in certain urban areas.

The healthcare industry will benefit greatly. Remote robotic surgery, home healthcare, and monitoring the elderly are just a few of the use cases we hope will soon become realities.

When is 5g coming?

It’s predicted that 5G will reach global implementation by 2020.

This year, the four leading operators in the UK are launching 5G in select cities. It will likely take several years however, til the bandwidth will be readily available throughout the country. But note that it’s been predicted that 90% of Britain’s population will have 5G by 2027, no longer relying on WiFi. Even here at SumUp we’ve noted the shift and have produced a card reader that can operate without internet connection.

5G is coming. Let’s get ready.

Micah McGee