5g mast over city in darkness

What is 5G?13 min read

Us humans are always looking for ways in which to improve the way we communicate. 4G has, for many years now, been the most effective way of sending and receiving data between wireless devices. This technology, the 4G network, has led to a huge increase in the number of mobile devices around the globe, which in turn has paved the way for the ‘Internet of Things’, an even larger global network of wireless devices.

As more and more data is sent, received, consumed and streamed, the telecom industry has decreed that we need a more advanced network to handle it: the fifth-generation of mobile internet connectivity, or 5G.

But what is 5G? And how will it realistically impact our lives? These are questions that, as the introduction of 5G creeps nearer and nearer, need to be seriously considered.

In this blog, we’re going to introduce you to the concept of 5G, discuss what the benefits it will bring about, before considering some reasons why we shouldn’t get too excited about it too quickly. Finally, we’ll take a look at how 5G will change marketing for you.

What is 5G?

5g concept

5G is the next generation of wireless internet connectivity, and is designed to vastly improve the speed of uploading and downloading data whilst offering more stable connections.

What does this mean in real terms? Well in this sense, it seems that the possibilities are endless.

Your internet gamers will be playing online with virtually zero latency (latency being the time it takes between the human user making an action and the display on-screen to respond).

With 4G, latency is supposedly around 50 milliseconds.
With 5G, it’s going to be just 1.
The speed at which you’ll be able to download HD movie will drop from 30 minutes to 25 seconds.

But how? How is 5G so much faster?

We won’t get too technical right now, but essentially 5G emits waves with a shorter wavelength. This allows them to essentially pack more data in shorter frequencies, so that connections are faster and aren’t impacted by large volumes of users operating on the network simultaneously.

These shorter wavelengths do mean that they won’t be able to travel as far as 4G, and they aren’t particularly effective at penetrating objects. So, if there’s a wall in the way, if you’re behind a tree, or even if it’s raining, you may not get as good a signal.

This is reflected in one of the most immediately noticeable changes you will see with the introduction of 5G. The masts that transmit the signals will be installed no more than 1000 feet apart. They are small, so you can expect to see them on rooftops, on the side of buildings, everywhere.

5g masts

Essentially, the difference will be that rather than building a few highly powered, lower frequency towers that we currently have with 4G, we will see a greater number of lower powered, higher frequency masts.

Telecom companies and nations are now starting the race to get 5G rolled out and in common usage.

But why? It’s not as if the world is in a dire need to play online games more easily and download films more quickly. Besides, the difference between a 50 millisecond and a 1 millisecond latency? Humans aren’t going to really experience that in real terms.

So why are we so desperate for 5G? Why are so many businesses and governments rushing to get 5G up and running? Why are we going ahead with the $2.7 trillion investment required? And why are individual operators ready to spend $100 billion investing in 5G?

Why all the Investment?

us vs china racing for 5g

Of course, there wouldn’t be such a manic scramble to get 5G rolled out if it was purely for the purpose of better gaming and the ability to watch high quality films on your phone.

There’s a reason that there is so much competition and money surrounding this update. It could essentially change the way society is run.

It may not revolutionize the way we, as humans, communicate. Sure, Skyping or Facetiming will be smooth and lag free, you’ll be able to stream, chat and search simultaneously on your smartphone… if you have a phone that supports 5G.

Current smartphones don’t actually have 5G integration, and the ones that do will be far more expensive than those that support 4G because it is a relatively new technology. And realistically, in terms of actual human usage, 5G just represents the next logical, incremental step that would naturally follow 4G in the same way that 4G followed 3G.

The advantages of 5G go beyond a simple improvement in UX (user experience). It represents the first progression that is geared at machines over humans.

Where we may not notice an upgrade in latency from 50 milliseconds to just 1, a machine certainly can.

5G is built to accommodate the Internet of Things (IoT). 4G can handle the current number of mobile devices in the world, but if the IoT is going to really kick on, it needs a faster service.

To keep you in the loop, the IoT is the concept of integrating wireless connectivity technology into virtually all aspects of life. Into your car, your fridge, into medical devices, your watch; you name it.

smart fridge

The overarching aim of the IoT is to create a more connected, more efficient world. The concept of the IoT comes with its own set of problems, but in theory it is designed to make life safer and run more smoothly.

5G is being introduced to facilitate this. Examples of what 5G might bring us include flocks of drones being deployed and cooperating seamlessly as they carry out search and rescue missions or deal with fires.

Smart cities will turn from a concept into a reality. These are cities that can manage traffic, energy distribution, improve air quality, manage waste and green spaces, and so much more. Smart cities would run off data. They would be made up of thousands of individual devices that need to interact with each other simultaneously in order to work effectively.

5G will allow this to happen, potentially bringing about cities that are safer, cleaner and have a higher standard of living.

This all sounds wonderful, and you can clearly see why so many telecommunication companies want in on the 5G act, as they bid for spectrums they can use to build their own 5G network.

But recently, some concerns have crept in from other parties that could, and really should, change the course of the headlong rush we are making into the world of 5G.

Why Not 5G?

5g base station

The primary concerns about the introduction of 5G are split into two distinct camps: health and security.

Two fairly major aspects of anyone’s life then, but how exactly is 5G a threat to our health, and why would it be such a worry when it comes to security?

1.      5G and Health Concerns

When it comes to impacts on health, the concerns lie in the fact that we will soon be installing thousands of antennas in much tighter spaces to ensure a good signal. More towers in a close proximity means that people in those areas are going to be exposed to more of the radiofrequency radiation they emit when transferring data.

On one side of the argument, you have a number of studies that suggest consistent exposure to these signals can cause some serious damage. Risks of damaging your metabolism, of increasing the chances of cancers and tumours and of disrupting normal cell activity have all been cited as possible effects stemming from this exposure.

In fact, in September 2017 a group of 180 scientists and doctors from 35 countries signed a petition recommending holding out on the roll-out of 5G. These scientists have come across data that backs the notion that exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) and the signals emitted result in real harm for humans.

5g and radiation effects

They are in favour of halting the development of 5G until it has been assured that the radiation produced by these new antennae will not become harmful.

On the other side of the discussion, you have groups of researchers that claim the new levels of radiation will amount to no more than what we are already exposed to. Of course, telecom companies and many government websites will tell you that there is absolutely no concern to be had when it comes to the new 5G network.

But with the amount of money at stake, you would hardly expect them to.

Maybe we should look to an independent source that has the vested interest in the health of the global population. The World Health Organization states in one study that,

“Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health”.

And in another,

“Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”

Essentially, it’s all very inconclusive.

But this technology is new. We can’t be sure what the effect of thousands of small 5G towers continuously bouncing radiation of people will have. Some might take this in itself to mean we slow down this headlong rush we’re taking into a 5G world.

2.      5G and Security Concerns

cyber attack concept

The rise of 5G is occurring in tandem, as we have already mentioned, with the rise of the IoT. What this means for you, should you jump on the IoT bandwagon, is that your home will be filled with devices capable of connecting to a super-fast, super-efficient network system.

5G is a public network, and this means that, basically, any device that is connected to it can never guarantee safety against a cyber-attack.

As the IoT becomes a mundane and normal part of everyday life, people will carelessly install devices susceptible to hacking in their homes without a thought. This is clearly a worrying possibility, and one that actually already exists.

The introduction of 5G, a much faster public network than anything we have ever seen, means that viruses, malware and other malicious forms of activity can spread extremely quickly.

Again, 5G hasn’t been operating long enough for security experts to establish where the weak links lie, so it will be vulnerable to cyber-criminals in its earlier stages. The answer will likely be some kind of cybersecurity software that can be installed on mobile devices, in a similar fashion to desktop computers.

Either that, or people need to be educated about the threats of inviting the internet into the most intimate spaces in their lives. In a worst-case scenario, the combination of 5G and the IoT would be an absolute goldmine for hackers.

alexa listening

The rapid nature of the connection combined with the number of devices linked to it would present a huge number of opportunities to cybercriminals. Easily hacking into devices in people’s homes represents huge privacy risk, risks of malwares like ‘ransomware’, and many other issues.

Without serious research and a strong strategy for keeping 5G secure and safe, it could open the door for malicious individuals to our very homes.

5G in Marketing

Of course, if you’re reading this on the Adversent website, you’ll want to know how this update to internet connectivity will affect the way you market.

You may already know that mobile is now the platform to sell on. Everything you do in the online world when it comes to marketing needs to be optimized for mobile. Smartphone usage has risen by an unprecedented 89% in the last 4 years, whilst desktop and tablet usage has slightly declined.

However, users are becoming less patient. Any load time over 5 seconds for a page and the chances of that user leaving your site immediately increase by 90%. Marketers have been trying for years to find ways to up their site speed.

stats about site speed

But with the introduction of 5G, that might all be about to change. Adobe Digital Insights have created a report that claims that with the coming of 5G, we can expect to see retailers claim a huge $12 billion in additional revenue from mobile commerce.

Visitors will be able to shop so quickly and so easily that the entire experience will be seamless. Augmented reality (AR) will become sharper and smoother, allowing users to test products before they buy them.

A 5G-powered smartphone would work with AI to simulate a product that had detailed specifications provided by the vendor. Decisions will be made quickly, needs fulfilled immediately. Impulse buys? They’ll be the order of the day.

With 5G will come a hugely lucrative age of mobile marketing, and an opportunity for your business to tap into the consumer mindset of ‘I want it now’. Of course, as with everything else we’ve discussed in this blog, we’re going to have to wait to see how things really pan out.

5G phones will be expensive at first, the majority of your target audience is unlikely to be operating on lightning-fast 5G networks. But once 5G picks up pace and becomes more and more mainstream, if you anticipate the trend of rapid mobile marketing and capitalise upon it, you’ll find yourself in a position of massive business potential.

Final Thoughts

smart city

5G is going to go ahead. In fact, in many isolated places, it already has. The fact that there is such a huge amount of money invested into the new network and the fact that the groups to win the race will make such huge returns means that health and security issues are being somewhat neglected.

However, we’re not suggesting 5G is heralding doomsday. There is a chance that each of these concerns will, in the end, prove completely unfounded.

What we are saying is that a little more caution could be practiced. We could check our manic rush towards a society that will change enormously before we know what it might bring. Of course, this isn’t going to happen.

But with change comes opportunity. Get your business ready for 5G, because when it arrives you can be sure you’ll see every single company scrambling for the rewards that 5G is going to hand out.

What will be fascinating to witness is how 5G changes society once it comes into the mainstream, and this really isn’t far away.