In 2013 the then leader opposition and soon to be Prime Minister made a pretty bold statement, saying his party was completely confident that 25Mbps was more than enough bandwidth for the average household. He also posed the question of whether it was really worth investing $50 billion of taxpayer cash in what is basically a video entertainment system.
Australia has top ranked mobile networks
Fast forward six years later and that question has been convincingly answered, whilst fixed line broadband in Australia has not kept pace with the rest of the world, Australian mobile networks continue to be consistently ranked in the top five. Mobile telephone companies globally are ramping up their plans for 5G and Australia is just the third country to launch a 5G network.
What is all the hype?
So the big question is what exactly is 5G and why all the hype? 5G simply stands for fifth generation mobile network and is being rolled out about nine years after the launch of 4G in 2011 and 16 years after 3G in 2003. To put things in a technical perspective the length of a wave is calculating the speed of light by its frequency. This means a higher frequency has a shorter wavelength.
Faster speeds Okay so what does that mean for us ordinary folk? Simply put higher frequency shorter wavelength is able to deliver higher frequencies over shorter distances though there is likely to be far more interference from everything ranging from cars, buildings and even water molecules. The theoretical maximum speed of 5G is 20Gbps which compared to the maximum 4G speed of 1Gbps is 800 times faster than what Tony Abbot said was enough speed for most families.
Besides being faster, 5G networks will allow for many more simultaneous connections. This is perfect when fans are attending a concert with tens of thousands of fans all trying to upload photos and video to social media. This will also be necessary as the number of Internet of Things grows exponentially. It is estimated that by 2025 there will be 22 billion connected devices. 4G networks will be unable to cope with that number. In contrast 5G can support as many as one million devices per square kilometre compared to just 60,000 for a 4G network.
The distance limitation of 5G is not trivial but can be solved by increasing the number of antennas on towers and buildings. These antenna arrays are far smarter than 4G antennas which just broadcast signals in all directions at a constant power. 5G has the ability to better understand where data is required and which direction so the power can be varied accordingly. To summarise, 5G allows a greater number of connections at faster speeds with lower latency but requires more antennas to deliver the coverage we expect.