Vodafone will launch the much-anticipated future of cellphone technology later this year. It’s the biggest thing since sliced bread. PAT PILCHER explains why.
5G (explained here in all its glory) is the next version of mobile technology that not only promises considerably faster mobile data speeds but far lower latency and higher network capacities.
The 5G announcement coincides with a cash injection from Brookfield and Infratil who purchased Vodafone’s New Zealand operations. Globally, Vodafone has already deployed 5G in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany.
The devil with mobile networks is always in the detail, and to this end, Vodafone has committed to upgrading over 100 cell sites to 5G by December. A further 400 cell sites are getting a version of 4G on steroids called 4.9G. The remainder of Vodafone’s network footprint will get 5G over the next few years.
The move places Vodafone in the box seat to garner first-mover advantage when it comes to 5G. Spark has also committed to 5G, but industry commentators say that they won’t have anything live until July 2020. 2Degrees has said they’re in no rush to launch 5G and will run with 4.5 and 4.9G network upgrades. They could offer 5G by roaming on Vodafone’s 5G network.
Vodafone’s early start comes from them re-using a chunk of the existing spectrum. 5G performance on this spectrum will be faster, but it will not be until the millimetre wave spectrum becomes available that real 5G speed increases will be evident.
Fast mobile data can only go as fast as the connection from the cell site to the internet will allow. This has seen Vodafone investing heavily in adding high-speed fibre links to many of its cell sites throughout New Zealand.
There’s no shortage of hype around 5G, but what is the reality once the hype is stripped away?
- 5G will be fast: While “gigabit” is bandied about by network equipment makers and telcos, real-world speeds appear to be somewhat slower (but nonetheless still seriously fast). In the UK, early 5G speed results from mobile providers saw data speeds peaking at a blistering 650mbps, and typically being roughly twice as fast as 4G.
- The difference between 5G and 4G won’t be all that noticeable on smartphones. 5G probably won’t change how you feed your mobile internet addiction owing to smartphone hardware constraints. Where 5G is likely to have a real impact is on the business side of things. Where sharing files, HD video conferencing, and running cloud-based software stands to benefit considerably.
- At home, you are more likely to see smart gadgets using 5G. The important thing here is to separate what sounds cool from what is actually practical and most crucially, useful.
- A lot of what is likely to be marketed as 5G probably won’t use 5G to start with. Spark already offer 4.5G. Vodafone has committed to upgrading parts of its network to 4.9G. Many so-called 5G apps could end up using a souped-up version of 4G until the 5G network expands.
- 5G could also be used to deliver fixed wireless broadband. While fibre is available in a sizeable chunk of New Zealand, there will always be places where installing fibre makes no economic sense. In these situations, 5G may offer a fast wireless substitute. This will depend on how fixed wireless data plans are priced. Watching 4K Netflix will consume a tonne of mobile data, and it will be impractical with current data allowance constraints.
To take advantage of 5G when it does become available, Vodafone customers will need a 5G USB modem or smartphone/tablet. So far, Samsung, Oppo and several other phone vendors offer 5G hardware that has yet to launch in New Zealand. Numerous smartphones from Huawei, Samsung, Apple and others are already able to use 4.5 or 4.9G.