The 5G revolution in Europe
For some of us, the memories of the first brick-sized mobile phones of the eighties are still vivid in the memory but much has changed since the deployment of the 1G network and its analogue voice calls. The nineties brought us digital voice calls and text messaging via 2G, the 2000’s brought the introduction of smartphones on the 3G network and fast mobile broadband with 4G in the 2010’s. So how is the 5G roll-out in Europe coming along and what benefits does it promise?
5G is the next generation of cellular wifi technology and its two greatest benefits will be increased speeds and increased capacity – and not just an incremental benefit. 5G promises to revolutionise our mobile connectivity capabilities. It’s 10 times faster than current mobile networks, with high reliability and latency of just 1ms (compared to 10ms on 4G LTE). In addition, it will make possible the ability to connect everything - with up to 1 million connections per km2 – delivering the era of IoT.
However, to unlock the full potential of 5G, it’s not just another straightforward network upgrade. There are two types of complementary 5G technology. The roll-out of 5G services to date in Europe has predominantly been using the Sub-6 GHz frequency.
Sub-6 refers to 5G deployments using spectrum under 6 GHz. This spectrum has been the key to 5G deployment to date thanks to its far-reaching coverage and the fact that it can be installed alongside existing 4G LTE equipment. Around 50% of the spectrum across Europe has so far been licensed and this is the basis of the 5G roll-outs we have seen in some countries across Europe so far. For mobile phone consumer users, this connectivity delivers a welcome further boost in speeds – Netflix movies can be ready in seconds – but it doesn’t deliver the full capabilities of 5G.
The second 5G solution is known as Millimeter wave, or mmWave, in reference to the relatively short distance between radio wave peaks when broadcasting at very high frequencies. These frequencies range from 24 GHz up to around 39 GHz. This spectrum is available in large chunks allowing for even faster transmission speeds with a lower latency. It’s believed this type of 5G service will underpin many of the important applications that may significantly change our society. Applications such as connectivity for autonomous vehicles to enable our driver-free future. This mmWave technology is also expected to be used for many corporate or private campus network deployments and to underpin the digitalisation and automation of factories in manufacturing 4.0. Licence allocation for this spectrum across Europe currently stands at around 10% with many licences still to be auctioned by country governments.
As well as the different spectrum, mmWave requires a different infrastructure. Sub-6 requires four antenna in the mobile computing device (one uplink and three downlinks) but mmWave requires more with two uplinks and five downlinks. Due to the shorter range, mmWave will also require more transmitters. The network infrastructure for this 5G technology is still being planned across Europe.
Rapid progress being made
Despite the world having to battle other health issues in 2020, the development of 5G in Europe has continued at a pace. There were as as many as 245 5G trials listed in Europe by the end of 2020. Trials have been the most numerous in Spain, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The top four biggest economies in the European Union (Germany, France, Italy, and Spain) are totalling 38% of trials, reaching 46% when the UK is included. Spain remains the country with more trials and Germany ranks second.
The popular industry sectors where trials are taking place are media and entertainment (39 trials) followed by transport (33 trials) and automotive (23 trials). Although many of the future applications for 5G are still to be imagined, they will no doubt change society and the way we live and work in fundamental ways. It will be an important technological step-change for our customers and Panasonic is already preparing its mobile computing devices for the 5G communications revolution.
Header image source: NicoEINino/shutterstock.com
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