As you may know, I live in Malta, and one of the island’s leading telecoms operators began rolling out 5G services this week, making the island one of the few countries worldwide to offer nationwide coverage of the new technology.
5G is a crucial platform for the fourth industrial revolution, soon becoming an integral part of societies and civil infrastructures, just like roads, energy, and transport.
But what do we currently know about 5G?
5G networks represent the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections than ever before on smartphones and other devices.
Combining cutting-edge network technology with the latest high-speed devices, 5G will deliver connections several times faster than previous mobile technologies. Average download speeds of around 1 Gbps are expected to be the norm in many (if not most) next-generation networks.
The networks are expected to boost the Internet of Things technology and provide the infrastructure needed to transmit massive amounts of data, enabling a smarter (this is of course, very subjective) and better-connected world. In the literal sense, the information from the vast array of sensors informs operators in real-time about what is happening in our homes or even in the cities where we live.
5G networks have been launched worldwide, with operators offering connectivity technology in the US, UK, Australia, and many other countries around the world. Although the deployment schedule has slowed down due to the coronavirus outbreak, networks continue to expand. There seem to be no stopping operators’ plans to develop and launch new nodes in individual cities.
5G is available in many countries worldwide, but just because your phone is 5G-enabled or your tariff plan is 5G-enabled doesn’t mean you’ll get access straight away. Coverage is still limited in the US, UK, and Australia.
Benefits that 5G can deliver but 4G can’t
Virtual reality (VR) in the blink of an eye
Watching live sporting events and concerts via virtual reality is not a new concept, but it is still rare and usually requires a fast home wired connection. With 5G, however, it will be possible to enjoy live streaming using a mobile VR headset regardless of the location.
More live streaming
Think about it: you’ll be able to watch every football match – not just the big games – and live concerts will be available every day.
We’ve been making video calls for a long time, but what about holographic calls? This is an application that Vodafone has successfully implemented beyond 5G technology.
While the technology involved isn’t just 5G itself, it could mean that you could even be in the same room as the person you’re talking to one day, making the world a smaller place and people even more connected.
Self-driving cars are becoming dominant
5G could make autonomous vehicles mainstream. To be most efficient, they need to send and receive data quickly between other cars, smart roads, etc., which requires a fast, high-bandwidth, and ultra-reliable network. 5G has precisely these characteristics.
Smart homes and cities
The speed and bandwidth of 5G can help improve the Internet of Things (IoT). While IoT is becoming increasingly popular in people’s homes, from smart thermostats to smart lights, 5G can provide almost all the capacity needed to connect smart devices in the house.
But 5G won’t be limited to smart homes. It’s smart cities driven by them that are emerging. This means that city managers can monitor pollution, traffic, and people flow, energy use, etc. in real-time.
This can reduce waste of resources and costs, for example, by allowing street lights to turn off automatically when no one is around, making cities greener.
Thanks (also) to 5G, complete new telemedicine, and even telemedicine procedures and devices are emerging. Real-time monitoring could help, among other things, to improve equality of opportunity in areas lagging in terms of care. Specialized expertise and procedures can be delivered more quickly to where they are needed. Continuous, real-time care, monitoring, and telecare to those who need it on an enormous scale can be ensured.
The impact of 5G on health
Some citizens are concerned about 5G and Electromagnetic fields (EMFs). What does 5G mean for EMF?
Some people are worried that more antennas mean more EMF exposure. The European Commission takes the protection of public health very seriously and ensures that any emissions are subject to high precautionary measures. 5G networks will use small cells with lower power levels and therefore lower EMF exposure levels than the existing large cells in 4G networks. A recent Commission study showed that in urban areas where 5G will be deployed and 4G antennas are still in use, the overall exposure levels will modestly increase, but this will still be a long way below safe limits – which are 50 times lower than levels at which health effects are possible. As the 4G antennas go out of use, exposure levels will go down.
Moreover, 4G and older generation antennas, which operate with higher emission powers, are expected to be used less and less in these areas. The new, small cell networks will develop and distribute sources of electromagnetic fields more evenly at lower power levels.
In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) did indeed add mobile phone use to the ‘possibly carcinogenic’ category. But 320 other substances and effects are also included, from aloe extract to diesel oil to occupational hazards for firefighters. Thousands of scientific studies have been carried out on the subject, but to date, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that mobile phones cause any kind of tumor, brain, or otherwise. It is now generally accepted scientific opinion that low-power, non-ionizing radio waves cannot alter the genetic state of matter.
So I will conclude in an extremely clichéd way by saying that time will (also) decide this question.