5G: a sort of bluffer’s guide

Still from a University of Surrey marketing video

One from last year…

Researchers at the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre have managed to get a jaw-dropping one terabit per second data rate out of 5G technology. What is to come and when-isn will it arrive?

1Tbps? That’s impressive.

No, that’s awesome. The previous record was held by a Samsung research team and had peaked at 7.5Gbps. certainly it knocks Ofcom’s statement that it believed speeds of 50Gbps could be expected from 5G into a cocked hat and it even rather puts the 5GIC’s own December 2014 estimation of 800Gbps in the shade. Essentially it’s wireless fibreoptic.

Give me a headline statistic

How about downloading 40 HD films in a second?

Impressive. So, who’s behind this?

The 5GIC raised about £35m in funding back in 2012. A shade over £11m of that came from the UK government which, after being slightly late to the 3G and 4G parties, is determined to show up early for this one. The rest came from a consortium of mobile operators and infrastructure providers including Huawei, Samsung, Telefonica Europe, Fujitsu, and Rohde & Schwarz. Serious people with decent track records in other words.

And, er, bitter rivals?

Quite. Samsung is working to have a trial 5G network set up for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Huawei for the 2018 World Cup. But cooperation to get it all up and running seems to be the order of the day at the moment.

Any chance of being able to replicate 1Tbps in the real world?

The signal was TXed over 100m under lab conditions and the Surrey department says that it has developed — and presumably patented fairly quickly — 10 ‘breakthrough technologies’ to enable them to do it. Expect a public showing around 2018 if it all sticks to schedule. But networks being networks and geography being geography, probably not. All the same, it’s going to be quick: very quick.

So, where can I find the 5G standard?

Ah, there isn’t one as yet. There are lots of recommendations and even lots of investment, but not even an actual fixed definition of what 5G will be as yet. To go beyond the current soup of 4G standards though it needs to have faster data rates, accept more connections, and be more reliable both in terms of coverage areas and signal drop out. For a truly mobile internet and such futuristic goodies as remote controlled delivery drones, driverless car networkers etc etc, latency also needs to be reduced to the sub millisecond point.

Sign me up! If Amazon want me I’ll be on the M4. When will all this happen?

The theory goes that a new mobile technology generation — hence the ‘G’ — appears roughly every decade after a gestation period of, again, roughly a decade. 4G was standardised in 2012 eleven years after 3G first appeared, so 2020 is the best guess at the moment. But sooner is theoretically possible in a limited city centre fashion. Indeed, watch out for a raft of headline grabbing 5G demonstrations at next months’ Mobile World Congress. And Huawei is already talking about a 4.5G network that will stream 2K movies (which, entertainingly, we already think is a bit passé).

And 6G? Is this another 4K/8K thing?

It seems not. Professor Rahim Tafazolli who heads up the Surrey unit reckons that 6G will break the generation per decade cycle and not arrive until 2040. Presumably, by which time, we are talking genuine AI networks and it will dictate its own terms before it emerges blinking into the cybersphere to run our lives.