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History of Engineering: 5G

  • by: Conor McKeon
  • On: 13, Aug 2019
3 min read

Thanks to smartphones, we now have the capability to access information and entertainment anywhere, at any time, thanks to data. 5G is the latest iteration of mobile technology, promising faster speeds, greater connectivity, and new age of technological innovations. 

How We Got To 5G:

The history of this new technology can be traced back to the first phone call in 1973.

In the following decades, microprocessors allowed for digital communications, giving us 2G technology which enabled text messages to be sent.

3G allowed users to access the internet, and 4G then granted users even faster browsing and download speeds. It ushered in the Internet of Things, allowing us to control objects in our homes remotely through our phones. 5G is designed to build on this, being optimised to ensure that inactive devices don’t take up more bandwidth than they require.

What Is 5G?

5G offers significantly more than just a speed upgrade for accessing data on your phone. It represents a paradigm shift in technology, like the job from the pre-digital age to the computer.

4G offered speeds of around 20Mbps, whereas 5G will offer speeds of around 1Gbps. In theory, it could go as high as 10Gbps, and Ofcom has suggested it could even go as fast as 20Gbps, but this is unlikely.

It also has lower latency, meaning a faster response time, and higher capacity, meaning it will be more equipped to handle high volumes of traffic and calls.

In theory, 5G will be able to simultaneously support more than a million devices per square kilometre.

Last year, South Korea was the first country in the world to set up a 5G network. The UK has had an active 5G network since early this year, but was only initially activated in a handful of cities.

How Can You Use 5G?

You’ll need a phone with a 5G enabled modem inside. Almost all next-generation phones will have one, as 5G is set to become the industry standard over the next year. You’ll also need to be within a 5G enabled area.

Problems With 5G:

Initially, the monthly charges will probably cost more than the average phone contracts do now. Unsurprisingly, the new phone models themselves will also cost more.

More importantly, 5G uses much smaller wavelengths than 4G, meaning the network will require thousands of antennas all over urban areas. These will also act as data-capturing sensors that will allow businesses and authorities to track users and learn more about them.

The large amount of antennas needed are also prompting concerns about the potential health impacts of 5G. Research is still ongoing about whether 5G will cause cancer, but that hasn’t stopped many countries rolling the technology out already.

5G enables machines to communicate with each other independently of human commands, meaning decisions might be made without human oversight. This raises serious questions about how much agency we’ll have, all while the governments has more access than ever to observe our daily activities.

5G will also enable the internet of things and smart cities to become fully realised. Smart streets might be able to track how fast you’re walking, predict where you’re going, see the shoes your wearing, and profile you based on those observations. All that data would be available for purchase by any marketing team or organisation who wanted more information on who lives in that area, or people who wear those shoes.

This has huge implications about data privacy and security, and only time will tell if 5G enables the next wave of privacy invasion and data capturing that we have sadly come to accept as part of living in the modern world.

Read more about the history of the internet, or learn about how the internet of things is going to expand.

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