What is 5G?

What is 5G?

5G is short for ‘fifth generation mobile networks.’ It is a true game changer technology that will provide the underlying wireless infrastructure to support a host of new applications such as connected cars, virtual and augmented reality and the foundations for emerging smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

What are the features of 5G?

Faster download speeds: 5G will provide much faster speeds than are achievable with today’s 4G networks. 5G is expected to provide speeds between 1GBps and 10GBps. This would mean a full HD movie could be downloaded in 10 seconds as opposed to 10 minutes today.

Lower Latency: 5G will also have significantly lower latency meaning very little lag (or buffering), with reaction times faster than the human brain. This will enable applications that simply aren’t possible today, such as: multiplayer mobile gaming, factory automation, and other tasks that demand quick responses.

Greater Capacity: 5G will also have vastly greater capacity so that networks can better cope with not only the rapidly increasing data demands of customers today but the growth of high-demand applications being planned in the future.

Real World Benefits – some examples

IoT devices – A wide range of connected devices. For example, O2 has found that 5G enabled tools such as smart grids and electric autonomous vehicles will save householders £450 a year through lower food, council and fuel bills.

Optimised services – utilisation of smart bins and intelligent lighting could save councils £2.8 billion a year.

Remote health services – NHS could see up to 1.1 million GP hours freed up through telehealth services.

Connected cars – 5G will be critical to connected cars which will require a constant and guaranteed connection.

Holographic video – industrial equipment could be controlled remotely helping increase worker safety and 3D medical imaging and remote surgery could become a reality.

What are the economic benefits of 5G to the UK?

5G has the potential to radically transform UK productivity and prosperity. In some cases, the potential of 5G has been likened to the fourth industrial revolution.

The Future Communications Challenge Group has estimated that the economic impact of 5G on the UK could be around £112bn in 2020 per annum, rising to £164bn in 2030, [1] In other words about £2,500 per head of population.  

O2 found that by 2026 the direct economic benefits of 5G rollout will beat those of broadband and these would be delivered almost twice as quickly as traditional fibre. [2]

The LEP Network states that early predictions suggest that manufacturing firms using 5G could see as much as a 1% increase in productivity, which if based on Q1 2018 manufacturing output could equate to an additional £1.78 billion over the course of the year. [3]

Qualcomm estimates that by 2035, 5G will support the production of up to £8.5 trillion worth of goods and services across the world.

[1] Future Communications Challenge Group
[2] O2 2018
[3] LEP Network 2018

What can local authorities do to ensure that your area can enjoy the benefits of 5G as soon as possible

Give strong political and executive leadership that emphasises the importance of mobile connectivity to the future prosperity of the area.

Empower a local senior digital champion who can ensure that planning and other access issues around mobile rollout are dealt with smoothly.

Give access to the assets of the public estate on a standard Electronic Communications Code basis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is 5G and how is it different to 4G?

5G is the next generation of mobile broadband. With 5G, you’ll see exponentially faster download and upload speeds. Latency, or the time it takes devices to communicate with each other wireless networks, will also drastically decrease. Also, low power consumption will allow connected objects to operate for months or years without the need for human assistance.

Will 5G require new infrastructure?

Yes. In the first phase of deployment, this will involve either modifying and strengthening existing sites to accommodate the 5G transmitters and other equipment or building some new sites.

What are small cells and why are they needed.?

Small cells are low-power base stations that cover small geographic areas. Some 5G sites will utilise higher frequencies which do not travel as far as lower frequencies and has trouble penetrating walls, and other physical objects. With small cells, carriers can plug gaps in coverage, especially where there is a high density of buildings where it is difficult to get signal and improve overall coverage area.

Will 5G need large numbers of small cells?

The initial rollout of 5G will be based on the upgrade of the current mobile network. MNOs, will utilise small cells to cover gaps in coverage where the broader network cannot reach. Additionally, small cells will provide additional capacity in high density transit areas such as railway stations and sports stadiums.

Are there any implications for health?

5G, like 4G, 3G and 2G, uses radio waves (electromagnetic fields (EMF)) to transmit and receive voice and data. Research into the safety of radio signals has been conducted for more than 50 years. The strong consensus of the public health agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, is that no health risks have been established from exposure to the low-level radio signals used for mobile communications. Read more in Health and Safety...

What safety guidelines does the UK adhere to?

In line with advice from World Health Organisation (WHO), the UK Government has adopted the exposure limits developed by International Commission on Non- Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) who monitor all new research. The ICNIRP safety guidelines are designed to protect people of all ages, including children. All UK mobile network build their networks within these guidelines. The ICNIRP guidelines cover all frequencies used for mobile telephony, including those being allocated for 5G.

Have the guidelines been tested?

Yes, Ofcom recently (February 2020) extended its programme measuring EMF emissions from equipment used to transmit mobile signals and other wireless services to cover the frequencies being used for 5G. It measured 16 5G sites in towns and cities across the UK, focusing on areas where mobile use is likely to be highest. At every site, emissions were a small fraction of the levels included in international guidelines, as set by ICNIRP. And the maximum measured at any site was 1.5% of those levels. Further information can be found here.

Will 5G interfere with weather forecasting?

The current UK 5G deployments use frequencies (3400-3800 MHz) that are not contiguous with or near, in terms of spectrum bands, to those used by weather forecasting and, therefore, would not cause interference.

Will trees need to be cut down because they block 5G signals?

Trees, buildings, vehicles and even rain can influence how 5G signals propagate. However, this is considered when planning telephone installations. So, it is untrue that trees are cut down due to 5G.

Does 5G kill birds because of high-frequency radiation?

No. It was claimed that in October and November 2018 hundreds of starlings died in Hugenspeak, The Hague, due to 5G trials. This is false as no 5G trial was conducted during this period. The birds died due to the consumption of toxic needles in yew trees.

Does 5G kill bees?

No studies conducted on the topic to date have been able to establish that electromagnetic pollution is a problem for bees. (Jean-Daniel Charrière, scientific advisor, Agroscope, the French agricultural research confederation centre of expertise.)