Technology companies are promising to change people’s lives with super-fast wireless mobile networks. So-called 5G systems were the main focus of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week.
“5G is the next generation of mobile technology,” Daniel Gleeson, a consumer technology analyst at London-based digital consultancy, Ovum, tells Al Jazeera.
“It’s going to be faster and more reliable internet speeds on your phone. But more than that, it’s all about having very reliable and quick responding connections, and that’s going to be very important for enabling new use cases for this technology,” he says – referring to self-driving cars, virtual reality, delivery drones, smart cities and billions of interconnected devices.
While this technology is considered revolutionary, it’s also going to be expensive as carriers will have to upgrade their infrastructures in order for 5G to travel on super high frequencies airwaves. They can’t travel through walls, windows and get weaker over long distances.
“This is probably going to be a big problem for operators in terms of how exactly they’re going to roll it out – it is going to be very expensive,” says Gleeson. “Every part of it [will be expensive] – from licensing the spectrum on day one to building out small networks in urban areas and eventually bridging that digital divide.”
Millions of people already don’t have reliable access to the internet, so there are concerns that many countries will not be able to afford 5G, thus widening the global digital divide. As a result, they’d be locked out of the digital economy and jobs market.
“There’s always this risk, but one of the big things that operators are doing with 5G is, they are using it in very high frequency spaces, what’s known as milimeter wave. And in this area you have very high amounts of bandwidth, which is perfectly suitable for doing point-to-point communications to rural communities and to isolated areas,” explains Gleeson.
“This is ideal for helping provide that last mile connection which fibre band simply cannot do due to the cost involved. So that’s one of the big promises of 5G – in that very high frequency bandwidth it can help bridge that gap in a way that previous mobile technology simply were not able to.”
According to Gleeson, “5G technology is very, very secure. The main issues in terms of privacy and security come really on the application level in terms of what your apps are doing and who you’re sending your data to.”
Currently, industry leaders, the United Nations and governments are trying to work out policy, standards and regulation; and due to the high costs, 5G will not be ready for consumer use until 2020. Thus, industry leaders are targeting large entitities.
“The case for growth isn’t very, very strong, and that’s why operators are looking at these automotive, industrial and IOT-related use cases for 5G to really be the bulk of the business case. They may not be very glamorous, or the most demanding in terms of bandwidth, but they are sensitive in terms of security, in terms of reliability, in terms of latency, and that’s really the strength of 5G compared to 4G,” says Gleeson.
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