5G For Business: Benefits, Locations & Networks
5G, dark fibre and the Internet of Things are hot on everyone's lips at the moment, particularly in the business world where everyone wants to get in at the start of the next big tech revolution. However, despite the fact that the latest network technology is now up and running in major cities, questions around O2 5G, EE 5G, Vodafone 5G and Three 5G still remain. We’ve separated the fact from the fiction to bring you the essential information that you need to know about 5G for business.
5G for Business: Technology
First of all, a brief reminder of what 5G is: it’s simply a mobile network technology, which follows on from the 2G, 3G and 4G technologies that we all know. 5G - which stands for 5th Generation - has not yet been rolled out in the UK but it promises to bring many improvements over its big sister 4G LTE. In a few short years, we've come a long from 2G in the late 90s to the brink of 5G in 2019.
The technical difference is in the radio frequencies that are used to transmit data. 5G will use high frequency millimeter waves (above 6 GHz). Compared to the frequencies used by 4G, whose bands are already very crowded, these high frequencies allow space for very wide bandwidths. In layman’s terms, that means that getting a strong signal with 5G technology is not hampered by the number of other devices connecting to the network at the same time.
An increase in frequency also means it’s more difficult to carry data over long distances. To solve that problem, more antennae and transmitters are used. These are be 'mini antennas' of low power, hidden in urban settings (for example in bus shelters or billboards). These can communicate with longer relay antennas to rebroadcast their signal.
This innovation in antennae has many advantages: first, it reduces exposure to waves since the signal power is lower. Second, it greatly improves the battery power of mobile phones. According to the NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) alliance, a smartphone using 5G could work for up to three days in a row without having to be recharged!
In addition to the logistical and aesthetic advantages of smaller antennas, they also have additional 'radiating elements', which makes it possible to take advantage of what’s known as 'massive MIMO' (Multiple Input, Multiple Output). This results in a huge multiplication of the number of devices that can connect at the same time and still benefit from lightning-fast internet speeds.
Speaking of connecting lots of devices, 5G goes hand-in-hand with the Internet of Things.
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What is the Internet of Things?
The next generation of mobile networks not only provides faster navigation on your mobile, but is a giant leap forward in technology in many ways. The Internet of Things (IoT) is more than just a computer accessing the internet; it’s multiple devices using the internet to communicate with each other.
This is where we step beyond the realms of laptops, tablets and smartphones and we start to see smart fridges, smart heating and lighting and smart coffee machines. Let’s take a grocer’s shop as an example: with smart technology you can set up a rule to turn up the cooling refrigeration system when fresh produce has been on display for five hours.
All this and more will be made easy through 5G networks, which provide the fast, reliable connections with the capacity to handle this kind of technology. However, our daily lives cannot be transformed beyond all recognition until our fibre optic broadband networks have better physical capacity. This is where dark fibre comes in.
If you're curious about the latest technology for business, then you can check out our guide to smart devices for businesses.
Sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? Let us enlighten you! Dark fibre is simply the name for fibre optic cables that are not yet active but are already part of the existing network. BT is the proud owner of a substantial amount of dark fibre, laid down several years ago during the dot-com bubble and never used. Now Ofcom has recommended that other telecoms companies should be given access to this unused resource.
Without dark fibre, the UK is unlikely to be ready for 5G since the active, 'light' fibre network capacity is not set up to cope with the demands that will be placed on it by the new technology. This may partly explain why there is still so much uncertainty about exactly when and where we will see 5G in action in the UK.
5G UK: When, where & how
5G network connectivity is now a reality across all major cities in the UK, but if your home or business fall outside of these locations then it doesn’t mean you’ll be without 5G too long - 5G launched in major cities first as 5G works more efficiently than 4G in crowded or overpopulated areas, but rollouts will continue through 2020 and even into 2021.
5G for business and personal use has already been launched in the UK's major cities. If your home falls outside of the current 5G locations then it doesn’t mean you’ll be without 5G too long - 5G launched in major cities first as 5G works more efficiently than 4G in crowded or overpopulated areas, but rollouts will continue through 2020 and beyond.
UK 5G: Devices & providers
To make use of 5G technology, the first thing you’ll need is a 5G handset. The first 5G mobile handsets became available on the consumer market by the end of 2019 like the Huawei Mate X, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ, for example.
There are also various 5G test sites all across the country where projects have been set up to trial 5G in smart tourism, rural broadband and autonomous vehicles, amongst other things, the results of which may inform certain business decisions over time.
Three claims to be the industry leader for 5G in the UK. According to their own data, Three has a considerable advantage over its competitors in terms of 5G spectrum, which is the technical term for the bandwidth needed to transmit data. Three has a spectrum of 140 MHz, while the recommended industry minimum is 100 MHz.
Three 5G is not a frontrunner in terms of the amount of UK locations they have on offer however, with 5G only up and running in London at the time of writing.
Londoners interested in getting Three 5G at home, like those who run their own business for example, can subscribe to the Three 5G broadband plan, which gives unlimited data for just £30 per month on a 12 month contract.
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EE has led the way in the UK in terms of 4G technology and is continuing in the same vein with EE 5G.
As the UK's biggest provider EE 5G is already live in 80 different UK cities and towns, and EE aren’t ruling out extending their 5G reach further than that down the line as well.
Despite the fact that Vodafone 5G boasted the most ambitious plans in terms of coverage area and the number of launch locations, the longer term projection was for a slow rollout. Vodafone’s goal is for 50% of devices to be 5G-capable before the end of 2020.
We expect more to come from Vodafone 5G in future, and given Vodafone’s excellent track record of upgrades and expansion to its network, we're confident that their technical wizardry will continue.
The O2 5G rollout occurred somewhat more cautiously, with a commitment to launching O2 5G in the four capital cities of the UK only. O2 5G has since been expanded to cover 60 different locations, including Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh. While its current coverage with 4G is an impressive at 99% of the entire United Kingdom, O2 are currently in less locations than competitor networks like EE.
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Notwithstanding BT's status as a telecoms giant, the provider took a while to announce the launch of their BT 5G service. BT launched their service in October of 2019 however, launching in a whopping 71 locations in one go, perhaps in an attempt to keep up with competitors.
As we've discussed, providers have launched 5G offerings on their own time schedule, take a look at some of the key 5G locations that have been well and truly up and running since 2019 below:
Seven ways UK business benefits from 5G
The big difference that 5G makes is speed. Compare the typical 4G download speeds of 100 to 300 Mbps (megabits per second) to the expected capability of 5G: at least 1 Gbps (that’s the same as 1000 Mbps). Loading a web page, opening an attachment or listening to music are already ultra fast in 4G. If we think about heavier use, for example downloading a film, the power of 5G comes into its own. It currently takes up to ten minutes to download a standard movie in HD quality using 4G. With 5G this will be cut right down to a second.
Amazing, isn’t it? OK, so maybe you don’t need to download films in your line of work but it serves as a useful illustration of the power of 5G. Imagine the fast communication you will be able to have between your connected devices: electronic point-of-sale, cloud-based phones, invoicing and taking payments via mobile technology, and much, much more. The faster your internet connection works, the more productive you can be!
Traders using mobile point-of-sale tools will see tangible benefits at busy times for internet traffic and at large events, such as music festivals, where very high numbers of devices are connected simultaneously. With 4G technology, congestion problems crop up because of customers browsing online and merchants running online transactions all at the same time. This often means having to run transactions in offline mode or the risk of dropped transactions, and therefore losing money. 5G networks will be able to avoid these problems.
- Using the cloud
Tech-savvy business owners already make use of cloud technology for all sorts of tasks. Point of sale applications linked to card readers, online invoicing, appointment and reservation apps - the list of cloud services is endless. The point is that with 5G, small businesses can really take off into the next generation of technology, with superfast connections that never suffer virtual traffic jams and without costly, maintenance-heavy hardware.
If you have been reluctant to embrace the cloud in your business, you can be sure that when the 5G revolution arrives your business will see real benefits from making the most of the new technology. Customers will expect to be able to do everything from placing orders to making payments with their mobile devices. If that path is not made smooth for them, they will go elsewhere. Don’t let your business get left behind!
The arrival of 5G will bring unimaginable opportunities for innovation, in the form of new products and services that have not even been invented yet. In the way that the first television audiences could never have envisaged the explosion of on-demand services such as Netflix, the full potential of 5G is difficult to quantify at this stage.
The UK Government has set up the 5G Innovation Network to bring together not only tech industry experts but also universities and telecoms providers with the aim of promoting and developing 5G in the UK. The network offers grants to exciting new projects that use 5G in innovative ways, such as AR-enhanced tourist attractions that will transport visitors to another time and place to experience history like never before.
- Lower costs
In business, every penny really does count so if adopting new technology means lowering your outgoings in the long term, then that is undoubtedly great news. Transitioning your business to mobile and cloud technology, using 5G, leads to lower costs because your physical hardware costs are reduced to almost nil.
A welcome consequence of 5G for businesses will be less necessity for hardware that is not only expensive to buy in the first place, but also works out to be costly to update and maintain. Additionally, telecommunications companies themselves will be less reliant on hardware as their networks become more and more software-based. For the telecoms industry, this means lower overheads; for businesses it means savings can be passed on from the operators to you.
- Network slicing
The arrival of 5G brings the opportunity for mobile operators to break up, or ‘slice’, their physical networks into different virtual networks. Currently, with 3G and 4G, all applications are governed on the same level, regardless of the device used. With network slicing on 5G, however, applications would be managed differently according to their nature. For example, a self-driving car will be operated using a different slice from that required by smart devices in the home.
Businesses will even be able to lease a network slice for their own specific uses. The obvious benefit of that is that there is no interference from other users; the speed and connection are constant and unaffected by other internet traffic.
Latency is the time it takes for a packet of data to arrive from a device connected to another connected device. The lower it is, the faster the connection. With 5G, latency could be less than 1 ms (millisecond), compared to 0.5 seconds in 4G currently. Click below for more information about internet connection speeds.
Almost no latency is enormously beneficial beyond the personal and recreational use of smartphones. Self-driving cars, telemedicine, smart kitchens and augmented/virtual reality with communication by hologram will all become part of everyday life.
With low latency, workplaces can be transformed. The exchange of data between connected devices means smarter, more flexible working, where employees, clients and suppliers can use remote connectivity for more real-time, virtual communication. Since communication is key to any business, this can only mean good news for productivity. If you would like to understand more about internet speed metrics then click here
- Augmented reality and virtual reality
The thing that really sets 5G apart is the potential for using augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). Imagine being able to demonstrate the service or product you offer simply by holding up your mobile phone and playing a video that’s superimposed onto the real, physical environment around you. Watch this video from Ofcom for an example of what we’re talking about:
The augmented reality capabilities of 5G will help customers visualise products in a realistic environment. For example, someone shopping for a new kitchen would be able to see different versions of their finished kitchen before any work has actually begun!
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What else do I need to know?
Now you know that faster mobile broadband, longer-lasting battery power and a whole new way of doing business will be open to you with 5G. You also know that you’ll be waiting until at least the end of this year to start using any of this shiny new technology. What else is coming our way in the 5G revolution?
5G broadband will change the way broadband internet connections are delivered. At the moment, the final mile between the telephone cabinet on the street and your business premises is constructed with copper wires or fibre cable. This will change to 5G wireless network connections that will make the final stretch between cabinet and premises a truly wireless broadband connection, with the impressive downloads speeds that you would expect from 5G.
Watch this space for more about 5G broadband and what it will mean for your business.