Feature Story

5G will change your mobile experience in ways you can’t imagine

by Jason Deign

5G technology promises to improve the mobile experience especially for data-heavy applications like virtual reality and machine learning.

5G technology promises to improve the mobile experience especially for data-heavy applications like virtual reality and machine learning.

There’s a change in the air that could soon bring the true power of the cloud to the mobile device in your hand. Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks, which are currently being field tested in markets around the world, promise download speeds of up to 20 Gbps.

This is many hundreds of times faster than the download speeds of the fastest mobile networks today, which use 4G Long-term Evolution to achieve up to 45 Mbps. It is also faster than what you can get with most cable broadband links.  

“This means that the power of compute-based capabilities that are running on thousands of CPUs in the cloud can now be brought into the palm of our hands,” says Chief Technology Officer Sal Visca, of Elastic Path, an e-commerce software firm. 

Data-heavy applications such as virtual reality or machine learning, which rely on cloud-based server muscle, will be able to run on handsets almost as quickly as they do on their servers. Data-heavy applications such as virtual reality or machine learning, which rely on cloud-based server muscle, will be able to run on handsets almost as quickly as they do on their servers. “It will be like having a supercomputer on your mobile device,” Visca says.

But not just yet. “For the normal user, the benefits of 5G mobile devices won’t be felt for around three to five years,” says Sukhi Dehal, CEO of the tech firm 383. 

One of the reasons for this is that today’s mobile networks are pretty fast as it is. 

See also: The 5G era emerges

Residents in London, U.K., for example, can already access mobile networks powerful enough to download Netflix movies in ultra-high definition, which is far more than you would need to be able to watch a film on a small screen.

The mobile apps we use were designed with today’s download speeds in mind, so won’t run much better when the network improves. Also, it will take time to roll out 5G. 

Ashley Smatt, CEO of Maximus Networks, says: “A 5G network will require a different network from the one we have in place for 4G, which consists mostly of large masts.”

When it does arrive, the benefits will be huge. 5G will not only bring massive data-crunching power to mobile devices but also help power the growth of smart cities through the Internet of Things. Device makers are rushing to get ready for the new network standard. 

For instance, Mobiles.co.uk mobile expert Andrew Cartledge says Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon x55 chip will allow “smarter, faster, 5G-capable smartphones.”

After years of waiting, Cartledge says, “it’s looking like 2019 will be the year we get to see what 5G can do,” even if the big leaps forward may take a while longer. 

For now, the biggest changes we might see with 5G will be in bandwidth-hungry apps such as gaming and video streaming. Significantly, 5G is set to enter the market alongside a new Wi-Fi standard, which will also offer a dramatic leap forward in speed.

See also: Why Wi-Fi 6 is the biggest update to Wi-Fi 

The standard, Wi-Fi 6, will offer up to four times the throughput of today’s 802.11ac technology and is expected to form a symbiotic relationship with 5G, transforming the mobile experience as we know it. 

Smartphone companies know these advances could allow for smoother, better images, and are already offering bigger screens. One of the big trends at this year’s Mobile World Congress was the presence of folding phones

“5G will also enable next-level multitasking as you will in theory have the power and speed to run multiple apps at once without slowing down the phone,” says Rob Baillie, mobile expert at CompareMyMobile.com. 

Even the near-term changes that 5G brings could have far-reaching effects. Take mobile gaming. More than half of the $137.9 billion spent on the sector in 2018 came via mobile handsets.

5G could see this figure soar, says Carl Pei, co-founder of the smartphone maker OnePlus, a sponsor for the leading eSports team Fnatic. “Gaming is going to be huge, and 5G will take it to another level,” says Pei. 

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