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What is 5G and how will it impact us?

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5G is opening up numerous new opportunities in industries from transport to healthcare. Vodafone is excited to be at the forefront of this journey.


By Charlotte Smith, Consulting Specialist, Vodafone Consulting and Innovation

It’s no surprise that the hot topic within the technology industry is 5G. It certainly has the potential to change not just the telecommunications environment, but every aspect of our daily lives. The Guardian recently went even further, saying it “will create waves of innovation that disrupt every industry”.

5G will deliver network performance far beyond anything it precedes. Expectations around 5G download speeds vary. This differs between more conservative estimates of 10 times faster up to 1000 times faster than 4G, potentially exceeding 10Gbps. This level of performance could enable the download an entire HD film in less than a second. Even 10 times faster will transform our experience in consuming data today.

Once fully implemented, latency is anticipated to be as quick as just a few milliseconds, so there's virtually no lag although this will take a few years to be realised. In addition, the 5G infrastructure is estimated to be able to manage more than 10 times the number of connections than 4G. This means difficulty in accessing the network when in a busy area will become the exception rather than the norm.

This improved network performance becomes the platform for new use cases. Take the automotive industry where 5G opens up the possibility for autonomous cars or connected cars utilising intelligent speed adaption when collecting data from the smart roadmaps. Directions, speed, and even the upcoming song could all be shown on the window screen using Augmented Reality, enabled by 5G’s ultra-low latency.

But when will 5G arrive?
The deployment across different geographic markets is reliant on 5G radio spectrum auctions in each country. Vodafone’s view which was presented at ‘5G World’ this year, is that the industry deployment of 5G in the UK will mirror the deployment of 4G. This is dependent on a number of variables. Firstly, the first set of standards for 5G, Release 15 were agreed in June 2018 and the standards for Release 16 will be agreed in December 2018 and includes the frequency required for the ultra-low latency.

Since 2018, Vodafone has invested in 5G trials and last year won the tender to deliver 5G capabilities with 38 partners in Milan. These trials range across 41 key use cases – here’s a couple I’m most excited about.

In health and wellbeing, Vodafone is trialling 5G to enable connected ambulances, sharing real time data and 360 images directly from the ambulance to the hospital to reduce the delay in treatments upon arrival, while also allowing doctors to intervene remotely. The trials are also connecting the ambulances to the traffic light system, allowing for a safe and fast journey.

The use of drones and wearable cameras within security and surveillance are also key use cases being investigated. Not only uploaded images in real time to a central platform but also using analytics for facial recognition to trigger actions.

In February this year, Vodafone also conducted the first standard 5G call in the UK between the Newbury and Manchester office and the first holographic 5G call in October. In October, Vodafone started the roll out of 5G capabilities across 40 sites in the UK in seven cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester).

These trials are critical ahead of the early deployments, expected to begin in 2019 with the initial focus being on dense urban areas. Device manufacturers are indicating that the first 5G device will be available in 2019. With all of this acknowledged, Vodafone’s view is that the industry will see growing device penetration during 2020.

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