From 2G to 3G to 4G it was all about doing more, faster. Development was all about boosting speeds and increasing the amount of data. Since the launch of 4G, most of the industry has been trying to push consumers towards this technology using speed and capability as top selling points. However, like the smartphone market, the more adoption rises, the harder it is to convince the consumer they need the next upgrade.
The way 5G is being discussed is very different from the previous generations of mobile network. The focus with 5G is on big data, analytics, battery performance and location services. A major influence on the form that 5G takes will be its first test bed facility; the University of Surrey’s 5G innovation Centre (5GIC) based in Guilford, England. The centre aims to be the world’s leading independent facility for researching and trialling 5G technologies.
Why should we care about 5G now?
The target date for the rollout of 5G is 2020, which could lead you to the conclusion that it’s not worth thinking about it yet. But in fact the opposite is true; now is the perfect time for the mobile industry to influence what the key components of this next-generation mobile network will be. Some of the benefits being suggested are really quite revolutionary, and at this early stage the bar can really be raised. It’s something Vodafone is already acting upon, as Luke Ibbetson, head of research and development, explains: ’Ten years ago we were defining what we wanted 4G to be. Now that 4G has been developed we are doing the same for 5G. We are looking to understand and enable new business opportunities, exploring where it can intersect with the needs of businesses, particularly ones with wireless needs that can’t currently be met by 4G. It’s all about understanding what can be done with 5G.’
Speed is not the priority but…
Despite speed not being the number one priority behind the development of 5G, any next generation service is likely to be faster. At the 5G innovation centre, speeds that are between 200 and 800 times faster than 4G have been trialled. Speed is inextricably linked to network reliability and improving the ways in which different platforms work together is one of the key priorities for those deciding the form 5G takes. The 5GIC claims to have come up with a new technological development that uses interference to strengthen signal rather than harming it.
Location, location, exact location
Ever since the first mobile phone appeared in a briefcase, locating exactly where a device is has been essential. The internet, smartphones and big data have only made technologies relating to location more important. With 5G the opportunity exists to develop the location services within a next generation mobile network. The 5GIC has already developed a U-direct technology that works out exactly what way a device is facing and where a person is storing the phone precisely. U-direct outperforms GPS capabilities, works in real time and works with low battery.
Another area that has grown in significance since 4G was developed is big data. Establishing a network that assists data analytics is something that those at 5GIC are keen to do. It’s particularly important when you consider that the reliability of analytics systems is a frequently debated topic. Building a functionality into the network that assists in this would help to eradicate these disputes.
As well as looking at the areas of development that have arisen following the 4G’s rollout it’s important to also look beyond the issues of today. All next generation networks must have backwards compatibility, but anticipating the possibilities that exist with next generation devices must also be a priority. Vodafone’s Ibbetson certainly believes this should be the case: ‘We want to open up new markets; with 5G we should look at the possibilities out there, we need to look at new technologies such as wearables and the cloud. Compatibility is obviously important, but there will also be new devices that will have a completely different compatibility.’