5G Dominates the Mobile World Congress


March, 2018

  • 5G is expected to be rolled out in 2020, promising to improve upon existing 4G capabilities
  • Nokia is one of the first telecommunication companies to trial 5G
  • 5G could reinvigorate competition within a mobile phone market that has been dominated by Apple, with every mobile phone manufacturer seeking to be the first to bring 5G to their customers

Phones, fridges, lights and numerous other electrical devices all have the potential to be connected to the internet using 5G in what is being dubbed “The Internet of Things”.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, 5G dominated the discussion as phone manufacturers, distributors, carriers, marketers, designers, and engineers from all around the world presented their latest work and plans for the future.

5G aims to cover a wider set of uses than 4G can currently provide, such as enhanced mobile broadband, increased machine-type communications, and more reliable applications. One of the innovative ways that 5G could be used involves connecting the millions of low-power devices around our homes and cities. Phones, fridges, lights and numerous other electrical devices all have the potential to be connected to the internet using 5G in what is being dubbed “The Internet of Things”. Tesla’s recent innovation regarding autonomous cars relies largely upon a 5G mobile phone network for part of its navigation system, with 5G also playing a key role in the future of car cybersecurity.

Nokia is one of the first telecommunication companies to share details of its 5G trials, initiating a trial with the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) and Deutsche Telekom. The trial, which will test different applications of 5G, represents a large outdoor testbed for 5G and will take place over the next 18 months. HPA has also expressed an interest in using the same physical 5G network to facilitate operational aspects such as controlling traffic lights. To achieve this, it’s estimated that network slices, which are designed to deliver greater flexibility on a network, will be dedicated to support the applications, each with different requirements for latency, reliability and bandwidth. In a move closer to home, BT and Huawei have made strides in the development of a 5G network using their purpose built test lab, the first in the UK. The test network can provide speeds of up to 2.8Gbps, showing that mobile phone operators may be the best enablers of a 5G network for consumers.

However, despite the potential applicational use of 5G there are numerous technical issues to consider. While traditional mobile operators manage mobile broadband services for consumers and business users, they are not accustomed to serving industrial users with the quality of service requirements they need. Operators can overcome this hurdle by learning how to design and deliver services that meet new industrial use case requirements. Currently, such technical issues are undermining EE’s attempts to launch 4G for the UK’s Emergency Services Network by 2020, with the project having been subject to multiple delays in guaranteeing 4G coverage in remote areas.

Given that 4G still faces issues, it’s not surprising that there are growing concerns over the enrollment of 5G. Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive of BT (who own EE), pointed out late last year that the business case for 5G is difficult. He suggested 5G requires “significant investment” and capital expenditure from telephone companies at a time when they have yet to complete the roll out of 4G and secure a return on their investment.

Still, despite the challenges that 5G poses, the government clearly believe it can provide opportunities too, with tourist destinations in Bristol and Bath having recently secured £5 million from the government to trial a 5G network. Speaking about 5G, Margot James, the Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, said: “The next generation of connectivity is set to transform business and society, and the government is committed to ensuring the UK is fit for a 5G future.

The implementation of 5G will see the digital transformation of existing mobile networks to satisfy future commercial needs. Whether it be using increased network speed to improve the ability to enhance mobile video services or secure the integration of a national energy smart grid, 5G will be key to accelerate new industry applications.

The first public 5G networks are expected to be rolled out in 2020, with widespread 5G usage not being expected until 2022. Initially limited to major cities in developed countries such as the UK, the US and South Korea, 5G will only cover a small percentage of the population for its first few years.

5G also operates on different frequencies to both 3G and 4G, meaning that tech companies such as Apple will have to create new phones with different modem chips in order to utilise this new innovation. This will potentially pave the way for greater competition amongst mobile phone manufacturers all seeking to be the first to bring 5G to their customers.


Written by Natasha Rega-Jones. Edited by Abdi Buwe and Keval Dattani.

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