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Is 5G going to change our world? Here’s what you need to know

What is 5G?

For most of us, the terms 4G or LTE (short for Long-Term Evolution) just mean faster mobile data. If you have heard about the incoming 5G (the fifth generation cellular network technology), you are probably thinking that it could mean even faster mobile data than 4G. 

MWC19: 5G is on

You wouldn’t be wrong, but 5G can be so much more than just that. On a technical level, yes, 5G is an upgrade to our existing 4G/LTE connections. As shared by Huawei’s Deputy Chairman Ken Hu at MWC19 Shanghai, we can expect to see a jump in data speeds from 4G’s 6 to 10Mbps to 5G’s 100 to 200Mbps; that’s almost 20 times as fast as what we currently have now! But what does an even higher high-speed internet on the go actually mean for the end consumers like you and me?

Thanks to 5G, WiFi could be obsolete one day.

MWC19 5G: Cover

Let’s start with the basics: with 5G data speeds, we are looking at the potential of streaming Netflix and YouTube videos in between 1080p to 4K (Ultra-High Definition) anytime, anywhere. Usual smartphone activities like scrolling through Instagram or Facebook can be expected to be more fluid, much faster, and in higher definition than before. In other words, you can expect that whatever you do on mobile data now would be better than what you get with current WiFi speeds. 

But that’s not all. 5G technology also comes with these promises:

1. It could change the way we engage with digital content

What used to be one-way traffic to stream videos from the traditional data centre to the mobile phone can now become two-way traffic thanks to 5G’s larger bandwidth. Interactive entertainment (think VR/AR mobile experiences) will also be made possible, on-the-go.

2. Increased mobility for work or leisure

Powered on smaller, 5G-enabled chipsets, laptops and tablets will run on a constant high-speed connection, thus allowing for more real estate for the battery components and potentially increasing the battery life of these devices as well.

3. It will power the next generation of life-changing technologies

5G will be more commonly utilised in IoT (Internet of Things) devices, such as autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, and even consumer electronics and appliances such as toothbrushes.

5G in Singapore – so what?

These are all big promises, and we have heard of things like this before. So for those of us living in Singapore, why does 5G matter to us? After all, isn’t 4G running sufficiently fast with our well-connected networks?

When 5G inevitably rolls out, that is going to change quite a few things for Singaporeans. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) have concluded their 5G industry consultation this Tuesday, and the local regulator will be releasing its response to the feedback by the end of the year. The authority’s push to focus on 5G-related efforts will support the innovation and research ecosystem for 5G technologies and applications, with the first 5G testbed opened at PIXEL in One-North to serve the burgeoning tech and media start-up community there. 

It was also recently revealed that a Telecoms Cybersecurity Specialist Team will also be included under the government’s work plan to look for weaknesses and tighten other parts of the infrastructure.

When 5G is fully operational in Singapore, cloud-gaming will become a reality. As a self-professed gamer myself, I had doubts about streaming games from the cloud (as do many members of the gaming community). After having the chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider on a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G at MWC19 Shanghai, I changed my mind. Imagine playing PC/PS4-calibre single-player experiences while taking your hour-long journey from home to Raffles Place every morning! 

For non-gamers, 5G’s ultra-fast speed is set to bless everyone with a smooth, fluid online mobile experience, whether it be watching or streaming videos, browsing social media, or shopping online on Zalora or Amazon. We’ll no longer need to seek hour-long refuge in Starbucks or rely on shopping malls’ shared (and slow) public WiFi. 

With the mobility and data speeds that WiFi promises, it is not completely unthinkable to wonder if 5G devices could even replace mobile plans. Consider this for a minute: in a family of five where everyone owns a smartphone, and maybe, with one or two people using an additional laptop or tablet – if every device has a 5G connection (and with a good price at that), why would you still need home networks like WiFi? Will this fundamentally change the digital fabric of the Singaporean family?

How will 5G be applied overseas?

MWC19: 5G in China

5G technology will definitely bring about the aforementioned convenience, but with the announcement of the initial public funding commitment of SG$40 million for 5G innovation in Singapore, it should come as no surprise that these 5G networks are very costly to build. Countries all over the world are competing against each other to build the first-ever 5G networks, and likewise, the Republic is committed to building a functional and secure 5G network infrastructure for its citizens.

MWC19: Facial Recognition

In China, the government intends to deploy a greater variety of IoT devices and sensors; from smart water meters and manhole covers to greater facial recognition and object identification technology. Not only will the Chinese government be able to monitor potential safety hazards and anomalies from a central location on just one screen, but law enforcement authorities can also pick up safety violations and locate crime suspects with AI-powered IoT surveillance camera networks. This reminds me of the movie technology that ID-ed Bucky in Captain America: Civil War, but real and faster, and catches more than one person. 

MWC19: AIoT

5G also enables existing AIoT (Artificial Intelligence IoT) solutions to become more powerful and accurate as more data can be transferred between the device and cloud computing at a much quicker rate. For example, China Mobile showcased AI-powered Sports Events highlights systems at MWC19 Shanghai and using 5G connections; this higher resolution footage can be fed to the AI to process more quickly. This allows for more accurate parsing of goals scored, chances created, and other exciting moments so swiftly and accurately that viewers can rewatch key highlights of a match within a couple of minutes. Sports enthusiasts no longer need to wait for YouTubers to upload match highlight compilations the following afternoon, only to be taken down by YouTube two hours later. And there’s more: 5G also enables higher processing power in regular devices by using cloud computing to process what might not usually fit into a phone or vehicle. 

So, what’s the catch?

MWC19: IoT Traffic

You probably should not get too excited just yet. Before the promises of 5G materialise, a whole bunch of things need to fall into place first. Firstly, the base stations that will support the 5G network need to be deployed – and that only happens after the government hands out the relevant licenses to the telcos. 

Secondly, we have to wait and see what the data plans will look like and when they will be rolled out. While some of the staff at the conference booths at MWC19 Shanghai mentioned that 5G plans will be rolled out like current broadband plans (by speed, and not by data limits), there has not been any concrete information to confirm this, especially here in Singapore. All the cool nuggets of information discussed above will be for nought if we are still running on plans on 4GB mobile data limits. 

Lastly, manufacturers need to incorporate 5G capability into their devices and get those devices into our hands. A 5G network is pretty useless if your smartphone or laptop does not support it, duh

Photos by Jeremy Tan of the DANAMIC team.

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Jeremy Tan

Video Games. Football. Eating. Sometimes I write :)

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