What is 5G?
Evolution beyond mobile internet
From analogue through to LTE, each generation of mobile technology has been motivated by the need to meet a requirement identified between that technology and its predecessor (see Table 1). For example, the transition from 2G to 3G was expected to enable mobile internet on consumer devices, but whilst it did add data connectivity, it was not until 3.5G that a giant leap in terms of consumer experience occurred, as the combination of mobile broadband networks and smartphones brought about a significantly enhanced mobile internet experience which has eventually led to the app-centric interface we see today. From email and social media through music and video streaming to controlling your home appliances from anywhere in the world, mobile broadband has brought enormous benefits and has fundamentally changed the lives of many people through services provided both by operators and third party players.
Generation Primary services Key differentiator
Weakness (addressed by subsequent generation)
1G Analogue phone calls Mobility Poor spectral efficiency, major security issues
2G Digital phone calls and messaging
Secure, mass adoption
Limited data rates – difficult to support demand for internet/e-mail
3G Phone calls, messaging, data Better internet experience
Real performance failed to match hype, failure of WAP for internet access
3.5G Phone calls, messaging, broadband data
Broadband internet, applications
Tied to legacy, mobile
4G All-IP services (including voice, messaging)
Faster broadband internet, lower latency
Table 1: Evolution of technology generations in terms of services and performance Source: GSMA Intelligence
More recently, the transition from 3.5G to 4G services has offered users access to considerably faster data speeds and lower latency rates, and therefore the way that people access and use the internet on mobile devices continues to change dramatically. Across the world operators are typically reporting that 4G customers consume around double the monthly amount of data of non-4G users, and in some cases three times as much. An increased level of video streaming by customers on 4G networks is often cited by operators as a major contributing factor to this.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has also been discussed as a key differentiator for 4G, but in reality the challenge of providing low power, low frequency networks to meet the demand for widespread M2M deployment is not specific to 4G or indeed 5G.