What is 5G and how does it compare with 4G? What will the 5G future look like? Here's everything you need to know.
What is 5G and why does it matter?
It’s the next generation of mobile network technology, following on from 1G, 2G, 3 and 4.
But it’s not just another G. True 5G offers the speed and quality that makes real change possible for gaming, entertainment, business, shopping, and travel.
Okay, you’ve heard all this before. ‘5G is going to change your life.’ And you’re thinking, how? How, in real terms, will 5G change anything? And we get it. It’s hard to get that life-transforming feeling this early on. Especially when it’s explained as just ‘faster’ and ‘more reliable’. So, let’s track out a bit and feel it for real.
4G vs 5G
4G is probably the best known and loved generation of mobile network until now. It brought more coverage, speed, and capacity than before. And it’s our most widespread network covering 99.8% of the UK outdoor population. Where 3G brought online to mobiles, 4G made data a proper thing and with it came streaming, apps, emojis and more. In this way, 4G really frames how we think of data, and how we use it.
So, yes, 4G’s download speeds are great compared with 3G. And with 5G you’ll be able to download game updates and high-res movies on your mobile in seconds. Not minutes or hours like before – that’s winning. And that thing called lag. There’ll be way less of it with 5G, which means when you click or swipe, it’ll respond almost instantly. Brilliant.
But if we think of 5G as just a faster version of 4G, we’re kind of missing the point. To see the true 5G future you need to get creative and think big. That’s where our 5G comes in. We’re building the UK’s fastest 5G network to leap into that brave new world. To make what we can only imagine actually happen.
5G on Three
You see, to get proper 5G experiences you’re going to need a network that can offer a full 5G service. 100MHz of 5G spectrum is the recognised standard for this. And we’ve got it. In fact, we’ve got 140MHz, and we’re the only UK network to have that much. The other UK networks have less than half.
And this isn’t just press or fancy sales talk, the data backs it up. In October, Ookla’s report confirmed that in Q3, ‘the 3 network has by far the fastest median download speed over 5G in the U.K.’ We’re talking in excess of 200Mbps.
Impressive, right? So, let’s imagine what our 5G might make possible in the future.
5G AR and VR
Our 5G could mean virtual and augmented reality with refresh rates that’ll give you seamless, in-the-moment experiences. It could be shopping. Being able to see exactly how a new sofa would look like at home. All thanks to it appearing as a holographic 5G sofa in your front room.
Or, it could be 5G online gaming. Think Pokémon Go, but a gazillion times better – multiplayer alien fighting, or defending fantastical kingdoms, in the real world. All without super expensive headsets – just an AR-enabled smartphone or console.
True 5G makes network slicing possible. Sounds dull, but creating your own private 5G network will guarantee you zero interference from people walking past on other devices. And that makes operating precise machinery from remote locations possible. You’ll have no connection drops, because your network’s protected from random devices. And because of that, you can tattoo customers in Manchester when you’re operating the needles from LA. Boom, business has gone global, but without the flights and the travel.
Or, how about when the drone pilot’s delivering your latest online order? They’re going to need a secure connection to make sure your delivery gets to you, and not your neighbour, who loves a bonus pizza supply.
5G smart homes
Smart homes and the Internet of Things only reaches its potential with 5G. At the moment we’re tending to use this technology in isolation – humans talking to their devices. Controlling things like lights, heating, or TVs remotely over the internet.
That’s great. But the true future of 5G and the Internet of Things is when all these devices talk to each other. Not just you. An ‘eco-system’, if we were to get a bit David Attenborough on you for a moment. In a 5G future, your devices will all have a chat between themselves. No cups of tea required. And in their super-smart way, save us time, energy, and hassle.
5G is a potential hero of sustainability. It’ll transform the way businesses operate. The fashion industry is a great example of this. The number of sample outfits created will drop dramatically and travel will be reduced. Read more about our partnership with the iconic Central Saint Martins for more on that story.
In business, super-fast connections at home will mean more people can work remotely far more effectively than they can now. This will minimise the need for office space and save energy because you’re making fewer journeys. Some offices might even be turned into leisure space.
Retail will evolve. As we work more remotely, we’ll want to connect physically and emotionally in other ways. Far from reducing retail space, 5G may well blur your shopping into a leisure entertainment experience. Imagine testing a perfume in a high-end store. The superstar who’s advertising it appears in front of you as their digital-self. They spray the scent and talk about what it means to wear the perfume.
This is where we’re headed. So, the next time you catch yourself thinking, 5G? Meh. Just remind yourself how far we’ve come. In a world before the Spice Girls – when 1G was the only mobile network in town. When all you could do on a mobile phone was talk, the capabilities of 3G would have blown your mind. Getting on the internet, on your phone, when you’re on the bus? Madness.
To understand what 5G can really do for us, keep that giant leap in mind and let your imagination really wander. Because whatever you think up, it’s probably doable on 5G. And we can’t wait.
We’re building the UK’s fastest 5G network. Find out more about why we’ll be the UK’s fastest network.