5G was rolled out in the UK late in May, putting the framework in place for future IoT (Internet of Things) developments. With this in mind, we ask – is bandwidth the fuel of the future?
What is 5G?
5G (fifth generation) is the latest development in mobile network technology.
With 5G comes increased bandwidth, rapid speed of data transfer, wider mobile coverage, and much faster response times.
What this means is that we can send and receive data far more quickly, and in greater volume.
For context, if you download 3GB worth of files – say, a movie or digital media stored in the cloud – 5G offers enormous improvements in download speed over the previous 3G and 4G mobile networks.
However, it isn’t just about faster download speeds.
Future developments rely on 5G because of faster response times and larger volume of bandwidth.
Here are some examples of what this means:
When you’re at home and more than one person is using the broadband for streaming video content or downloading large files, the internet sometimes slows down considerably. This is because of a lack of bandwidth.
That analogy concerns home broadband, rather than the mobile network, but the principle remains – the more users on a network (broadband or mobile), the more demand for data.
5G promises to all but eliminate this, allowing vast amounts of mobile users to be connected to the wider 5G infrastructure – without any slowdowns.
Response times (also known as latency)
Literally the time taken for data to bounce from the device to the network centre, and back to the device. 5G allows for faster response times meaning that the waiting time between request (i.e. opening a video on a website) and action (the video playing) is much shorter.
For example, Chinese surgeons performed a remote brain surgery procedure successfully on a patient nearly 3,000km away. This was neither safe nor possible without the rapid response times of 5G technology.
There are more practical day-to-day user benefits to be seen however.
Bandwidth and its Role in Future Technologies
The bandwidth available through 5G Mobile technology is a game-changer – it means that more people can use the UK mobile infrastructure concurrently without slowing it down.
As a result, the capacity to create an envisioned future of interconnected smart devices draws much closer – it’s predicted that there will be over 26 billion connected devices by 2020.
This is the Internet of Things (IoT).
As you can see, the world is about to become a far more connected place as a result of the higher bandwidth, data transfer speeds, and response times associated with 5G.
5G technology is the baseline for accelerating the information age – whether it’s consumer-based products such as smart TVs and smart speakers, which we’re already seeing in the present, or enterprise solutions such as electric meters and security cameras.
This also includes self-driving cars and the associated urban design. Automated vehicles will be able to use 5G to ‘speak’ with other objects in the urban landscape – this could be speed limit signs, traffic lights, and of course, other vehicles and obstacles. See it as an invisible network of moving parts, pushing and pulling in the right direction.
The benefits are clear – the elderly can still get out more easily and tiredness from long journeys becomes less of an issue, amongst many other ideas that we are yet to conceive.
All of this requires the technology associated with 5G.
Evolving Threat Landscape
New advancements in technology raise new questions, however.
And serious questions remain not just about the security of data in a 5G-connected world, but the ethics behind the reliance on national infrastructure built and maintained by private companies.
Whether the UK 5G infrastructure is built by Huawei or another company, the following questions arise:
Supply and demand – How will the company maintaining the infrastructure control supply and demand. Ideally, we want to avoid a future where users and businesses are places in fast, medium, and slow ‘lanes’.
National security – Only a small handful of companies have the means to build such an infrastructure, so not every nation can produce their own 5G infrastructure in-house.
This is the ongoing debate surrounding Huawei and UK infrastructure right now.
The benefits of 5G are enormous and Huawei makes excellent technology. However, Chinese laws dictate that businesses operating in China must hand over data to the Chinese Government if requested, for national security purposes.
Cyber Warfare – Smart cities with an increased reliance on technology are ripe for targeted cyber warfare. We’ve already witnessed nation states conducting cyber attacks against one another and the city of Baltimore is currently undergoing a ransomware attack.
However, we are yet to see the social and economic fallout from an entire city’s power, gas, water, and other essentials being taken off the grid. The BBC published a mock-5G cyber attack to simulate this.
It is worth mentioning that many of these circumstances are theoretical right now.
Further research has to be conducted and 5G firmly established in the market before the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) properly takes off.
And whilst it’s easy to compare 5G, big data, and bandwidth with oil’s role in the 20th century – it is far better suited as an analogy than a direct comparison.
5G will power innovation through the IoT and bandwidth availability will determine the extent and reach of this innovation.
However, it raises very different questions and quandaries to those of oil in the pre-industrialised world.