The new generation of mobile connectivity is coming and promises to super-charge our lives. While 3G gave us internet on the move and 4G brought us faster connections, experts predict the fifth generation of mobile networks will have an even bigger impact.

The need for speed

With the growth of streaming services like Netflix, wearable technology and ‘smart’ homes where appliances are connected to the internet, the need for smooth, reliable and speedy connections on the go is greater than ever. It’s predicted there could be 50-100 billion devices connected worldwide by 2020.

And the future could come sooner than previously thought. In this year’s budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced £16m to create a 5G ‘hub’ to trial the new tech, £200m to support local ‘full-fibre’ broadband network projects, and £270m for robotics, biotech and driverless vehicle systems. For those of us who don’t have a degree in tech language, in short, it means the future of your mobile internet is set to be faster. Much faster.

Telecoms and media regulator Ofcom hopes to have 5G networks live across the UK by 2020, and it will offer a much faster service than the current 4G.

Here, we rank the most exciting developments predicted to arise when 5G rolls out in the UK for you and your family.

1. Put your feet up and drive

Reclining in your seat, feet on the dashboard as you sip your flat white, while Peppa Pig streams in the back entertaining your silent kids – just imagine if the commute to school or drive to the supermarket looked like this. Thanks to 5G technology, this could be more than wishful thinking.

According to David Hutton, director of technology at GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide: ‘5G could play a pivotal role in providing the responsive and ubiquitous connectivity required by autonomous vehicles to function safely.’

In other words, 5G connectivity could help bring driverless cars to our roads that would be able to avoid accidents by ‘talking’ to other vehicles and through sensors built around cities – in street lamps, petrol stations and the road itself. And that means you and your kids can kick back and enjoy the ride.

The future of 5G

2. Get in the game

We mean this quite literally – or at least, virtually. The emergence of 5G brings with it endless possibilities for virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR).

‘Mobile operators will need the network capacity and performance provided by 5G to meet demand for immersive entertainment anywhere, at any time. For example, 5G will be able to deliver live virtual reality streams from sports events and concerts, while enabling detailed digital information to be superimposed on live images of the physical world, captured on a smartphone or head-mounted display,’ predicts David Hutton.

Lower latency – the delay before a data transfer begins – means live streaming could be combined with VR and AR for immersive, multiplayer gaming in real time, while sports spectators could watch live from a variety of alternative camera angles, taking them right on the pitch. Dad’s going to love it.

The future of 5G

3. Pie, robot

In the not too distant future, your pepperoni pizza or chicken chow mein could be brought to your door by a friendly robot.

The quicker, smoother communication that 5G enables means robots could be controlled wirelessly and respond in real time, guided by sensors for safety and location accuracy.

Domino’s Pizza are already leading the charge, teaming up with Starship Technologies to develop an autonomous, rolling machine to take pizza to hungry households in Hamburg, Germany. Bob Liao, an analyst at Macquarie, thinks that machines are the future: ‘We believe delivery drones and droids could replace drivers for takeaway delivery’.

With 5G, robotic takeaway deliveries will be more sophisticated, faster and more efficient.

The future of 5G

4. Drones to your door

This one has been up in the air for a while. Amazon sent its first delivery by drone in December 2016, using GPS technology to drop the package in Cambridge within 13 minutes of the order being placed. So, if you’ve suddenly remembered you need something to finish your kid’s school project, you could get it delivered in mind-blowing speed.

With 5G networks improving speed and accuracy in the future, there’s a strong possibility almost all deliveries could eventually arrive this way – meaning the delivery of anything, at any time. No more peering through the window every time you hear a van pull up outside.

‘Thanks to a step-change in latency, 5G could be used to control robots working in unpredictable conditions, or fast moving objects, such as drones, using a virtual reality headset,’ says David Hutton from GSMA.

Google has also been testing 5G internet drones, which could bring wireless internet to remote areas.

At last year’s Mobile World Congress, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said 5G is essential for efficient drone delivery systems. ‘The drone needs to stay connected at all times. To disrupt how packages are delivered, we have to have 5G,’ he said.

5. Stream HD movies in a flash

Did we mention 5G is fast? According to Ofcom, whizzy new mobile broadband speeds could mean that downloading a high-definition movie takes just a second.

Compare that to around 10 minutes or more on a good 4G connection, and we’re talking a whole new level of ‘on-demand’ services. For families, that means satisfying fussy kids quickly and the ability to stream different programmes and movies to several devices at the same time.

6. Remote surgery

Because 5G can communicate data in real time, a surgeon need not necessarily be in the same room as a patient in future. Mobile tech firm Ericsson demonstrated the possibilities using a dummy patient at King’s College London – a VR headset and special glove allowed the surgeon to control a robotic arm, performing the actual operation in another location. Amazing, we know.

The tech could also be used for ‘smart bandages’. Due to be trialled within the next year by Swansea University, these would detect how a wound is healing and send messages back to your doctor via real-time 5G.

‘That intelligent dressing uses nano-technology to sense the state of that wound at any one specific time,’ says Professor Marc Clement, chair of the university’s Institute of Life Science. ‘It would connect that wound to a 5G infrastructure and that infrastructure through your telephone will also know things about you – where you are and how active you are at any one time. You combine all of that intelligence so that the clinician knows the performance of the wound at any specific time, and can then tailor the treatment protocol to the individual and wound in question.’

It’s an incredible development that will help to keep you and your family well and healthy.

7. House hunt from your sofa

Dragging your kids around dozens of potential new homes to rent or buy could also be relegated to the past. Augmented reality (AR), where digital elements are layered on top of the physical world, has already entered our lives – chasing around after Pokémon on Pokémon Go is just one example. But experts believe it’s the speed and efficiency of 5G that will truly unlock its potential, and that of virtual reality (VR), where users are fully immersed in a digital world.

And the uses can be practical as well as purely fun. Virtual tours of properties for potential house buyers will become the norm. Meaning you could nosy around a potential new home in your lunch break, rather than having to book a day off work.

The future of 5G

8. Even smarter homes

New apps and smart tech mean you can control your heating and even switch on the kettle from your phone. In the future, 5G is set to cleverly connect billions of objects in what has been termed the ‘Internet of Things‘.

‘There is seemingly no limit on how what we refer to as 5G could impact our everyday existence,’ says Mignon Clyburn, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). ‘A refrigerator that not only alerts you to a near-empty egg carton, but automatically adds that item to a virtual shopping list, enabling a delivery to your door by week's end, without any action from you.’

Sara Mazur, head of research at Ericsson, adds: ‘In the future, we see a world where everything that can be connected, will be connected. And that is virtually everything.’

The future of 5G

In other words, all these things that may seem cutting edge at the moment will become standard in the not-too-distant future. And we’re seriously into that.

Not ready for a 5G upgrade yet? Get yourself a good deal on a 4G phone right here instead.

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