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5G: unleashing the fourth industrial revolution

22 March 2021
Hal Briggs
Content Communications Specialist

Fifth generation technology (5G) will unleash a new era of connectivity between people, machines, objects and devices, laying the foundations of the fourth industrial revolution. What are the key takeaways of 5G and its implications?


5G is the fifth generation mobile network. It is the new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to deliver ultra low latency, higher peak data speeds, greater capacity, increased reliability, and support more users, devices, and services while simultaneously improving network efficiency.


Since South Korea rolled out the world’s first commercial 5G network on 03 April 2019, the technology has spread rapidly. In 2020, Viavi Solutions reported that 5G was at least partially available in 378 cities in a total of 34 countries. The technology is set to continue spreading at an exponential rate: by 2023, 5G devices and connections will be over 10% of global mobile devices and connections (19.5% in the UK).


5G is considered a ‘game changer’ in the world of digital infrastructure. It is expected to provide up to 100x faster mobile download speeds than 4G, and with the potential to offer faster download speeds than conventional broadband wi-fi. The fact that 5G is essentially latency-free means devices can interact and exchange data in real-time.

These characteristics mean that 5G will transform and unleash a range of applications and industries from driverless cars, smart homes, virtual and augmented reality and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, as well as reshape cities and create myriad technologies and services we are unable to fully grasp today. All in all, 5G is predicted to drive up to $12.3 trillion worth of goods and services and support 22 million jobs by 2035.


Scaling 5G will rely on the rollout of small cells which are uniquely capable of handling high data rates for mobile broadband and consumers and, for IoT, high densities of low-speed, low-power devices. Roll outs of small cells are already taking place to densify 4G networks, where bandwidth needs are the highest (mostly in London). As at November 2020, more than 1,000 small cells have been deployed in the UK. This number is expected to increase dramatically with 5G adoption, which could reach 26% by 2024.


Online traffic is already growing at an exponential rate, especially in dense urban areas, and with the arrival of 5G, the rate of growth will only increase. With more devices moving online, the demand for data bandwidth will increase further. The growth rate of internet traffic was predicted to increase on average by 30% every year. By 2023, a 5G connection will generate nearly 3X more traffic than a 4G connection.  


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