Everything you need to know about 5G

5G Tower

5G Tower

Credit: Fergus Halliday

What is 5G?

5G is set to be the fifth-generation of standardized mass-scale wireless broadband. To phrase it a bit more loosely, it’s the thing that will connect your phone and other smart devices to the internet when you’re not using Wi-Fi in the future.

Like its predecessors, 5G based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard. However, unlike 3G and 4G, 5G has been designed around the smartphone-heavy use-patterns of most modern users and the desires of vendors to build more complex products that require greater data usage with less latency than 4G currently allows for.

What’s exciting about it?

Where 4G LTE was about allowing mobile users to effectively browse the web and use web-enabled apps on the go, 5G is about cranking that capability to the extreme.

In the future, it’s expected that the data diets of mobile users will not only grow but that increased reliance on connected devices will also demand that that network access be delivered faster than 4G can currently allow. That's where 5G is expected to come in and take the reins.

Credit: Nils Ackermann | Dreamstime.com

Simply put - 5G promises to offer better coverage, significantly faster speeds and allow for more responsive devices that can remain near-constantly connected to one another.

How much faster is 5G than 4G?

It’s expected that 5G will offer data speeds up to 50 or 100 times faster than current 4G networks.

While 4G currently offers a theoretical maximum throughput of up to about 1gbps, most everyday users achieve an average of 33.76Mbps.

By comparison, 5G networks are theoretically able to deliver speeds up to ten gigabytes per second. Even if you’re experiencing a comparable level of drop-off with 5G during everyday use, this will still represent a huge leap forward in connectivity speeds.

In our testing experience we've seen 5G devices like the Oppo Reno 5G and LG V50 ThinQ deliver speeds that range from hundreds of megabytes per-second to 2Gbps in optimal conditions.

A report issued by the GSMA in 2014 titled Understanding 5G:Perspectives on future technological advancements in mobile highlighted eight criteria that a 5G connection should fulfill:

  1. One to 10Gbps connections to end points in the field
  2. One millisecond end-to-end round trip delay 
  3. 1000x bandwidth per unit area
  4. 10 to 100x number of connected devices
  5. (Perception of) 99.999 percent availability
  6. (Perception of) 100 percent coverage
  7. 90 percent reduction in network energy usage
  8. Up to ten-year battery life for low power, machine-type devices

What products will use 5G?

Credit: Yaroslav Shiyko | Dreamstime.com

While smartphones are likely to be the torchbearers for 5G as a technology, they’re far from the only device that’ll use the network. Tablets, connected-cars, drones, virtual reality headsets, wearables and smart city infrastructure are all expected to play a role in our collective 5G future.

At MWC 2018, Intel showed off a concept 2-in-1 PC and said that they’ll be working with OEMs like Dell, HP and Lenovo to develop portable PCs that come 5G-enabled.

Expect more and more 5G devices to make their way to market in the coming years.

How much will 5G cost?

While seemingly-everyone in the tech world has plenty of exciting things to say about what 5G will allow them to do, nobody is rushing to talk about how much this network upgrade will cost end-users or telecom providers - both directly and indirectly.

Overseas, some estimates have suggested that the infrastructure costs of Europe’s 5G upgrade could range from €300bn to €500bn. Locally, some say that Australia’s size could see local vendors rack up a similarly-sized bill.

In 2016, Telstra CEO Andy Penn indicated the company planned to invest an extra $3 billion into its core networks over the next three years in order to meet challenges like 5G.

5G is coming - but it won't be cheap and local carriers will look to make back that money in other ways.

Credit: Huawei

As with 4G, you will need to buy a new phone in order to connect to 5G networks. And naturally, early adopters looking to jump aboard sooner rather than later are going to be paying a premium to do so.

The first wave of 5G modems from Qualcomm, Huawei, Samsung and others aren't integrated with their mobile SoC products in the same way that modern modems are. For this reason, the first wave of 5G handsets are all priced above their 4G counterparts and they also tend to consumer more power.

Just how expensive can 5G handsets get? Well, the standard Galaxy Note 10+ is priced at $1699. The Galaxy Note 10+ 5G is priced at $1999. That's a $300 difference in price. The same $300 gap exists between Oppo's Reno ($1199) and Reno 5G ($1499) handsets. As of 2020, cheaper 5G handsets are starting to make their way to the market but, right now, 5G remains a pricey perk.

What's more, paying more for their next smartphone isn't the only cost that consumers are going to bear in regards to 5G.

Credit: Oppo

For Telstra customers specifically, 5G connectivity is being treated as an add-on. When the telco launched their 5G service in May, they said that 5G access would be free for the first twelve months. Once May 2020 rolls around, consumers will have to pony up an extra $15/month on top of their existing bill to remain connected.

Optus have taken the opposite approach. Though their 5G proposition emphasizes fixed wireless and comes with its own bag of caveats, the telco insists that they won't be charging extra for the additional connectivity.  

Back in November 2019, then-CEO Allen Lew told journalists that 5G is not a value-add for existing customers but a core component of their offering.

Vodafone announced it'd be working with Nokia to roll out its own 5G network back in December 2019. However, it's too soon to say when that partnership will yield tangible benefits for consumers or how much it'll cost.

When will 5G arrive?

galaxy-s10-5g-speed-100788860-orig.jpgCredit: Samsung

Good news - 5G is already here. Sort of.

5G was previously expected to arrive as early as 2020. However, with the certification of the first official 5G spec by 3GPP last year, carriers worldwide began to build and deploy 5G networks in earnest.

Both Optus and Telstra launched their 5G networks to varying degrees in 2019. Samsung, LG, Xiaomi, Oppo and other devices manufactuers launched their first 5G enabled handsets across the same period of time.

Additional 5G handsets are expected to launch in 2020. At this stage, both Apple and Google have yet to bring a 5G handset to market.

You can check out a round-up of Optus's 5G phone plans below:

You can check out a round-up of Optus's 5G phone plans below:

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Fergus Halliday
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