Features

5G: Everything you need to know

October 17, 2019

5G has landed. The superfast fifth generation of mobile network connectivity is being rolled out across the UK, with devices and plans available to use right now from Vodafone UK.

But what exactly is 5G? And how does it work?

Here’s everything you need to know in one handy guide.

What is 5G?

Short for the ‘fifth generation’ wireless mobile network, 5G is the newest iteration of our global mobile networking standard.

It promises…

  • Much higher download and upload speeds
  • Lower latency (the time it takes for a connected service to respond to your command)
  • Far greater capacity, enabling many more people to get a signal even in very crowded areas, such as football stadia and railway stations.

A short G history…

  • 1G (first generation), introduced in the early 1980s, was analogue and voice-only.
  • 2G followed in the 1990s, adding call and text encryption, and basic data services like Short Message Service (SMS) texting, picture messages and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS).
  • 3G came along in 1998, ushering in a new era of video calling and mobile internet.
  • 4G launched in 2013, supporting higher-speed services, such as HD (high definition) streaming, gaming services and video conferencing.
  • 5G went live on the Vodafone UK network on 3 July 2019, promising game-changing speeds and far greater capacity.

How fast is it?

Very. Whereas 4G offers 23-35Mbps (megabits per second) on average, the potential with 5G is up to 10 times faster than that, with peak speeds of up to 1Gbps and average speeds of 150-200Mbps, depending on how it’s deployed.

When we took a bunch of journalists to Madrid in September 2019 to test our 5G roaming speeds there, they experienced speeds as high as 670Mbps.

And earlier this year Vodafone touched down for a 5G test at Manchester Airport, in which we invited travellers to try downloading TV shows over both 4G and 5G. The results were pretty amazing: a single episode of Tin Star on NOW TV was downloaded in just 45 seconds over 5G, while all nine episodes of season two took a little over six minutes.

That’s around four times quicker than over 4G, which took just over 26 minutes in the same conditions.

 

What will 5G enable us to do?

5G offers three major advantages:

  • Speed: welcome to the world of near instantaneous downloads and uploads. Imagine superfast broadband for when we’re out and about.
  • Low latency: latency is the time it takes for a device connected to an online service to respond to your inputs or instructions, otherwise known as lag. Reducing this time lag is crucial in making, say, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications faster to respond.
  • Huge capacity: this just means that it can handle lots of people and services accessing the network at the same time, even in densely populated areas.

Given these advantages, here are some of the things we might be able to do:

  • Download movies much faster and stream games without any interruptions
  • Enjoy VR on the go without wires or nausea-inducing lag
  • Carry out remote surgery in near real time using robotic arms
  • Conduct live holographic phone calls
  • Benefit from AR guidance and training via smart glasses or car windscreens
  • Help drones co-operate in emergency situations
  • Enable driverless cars to communicate with each other and smart city infrastructure (such as traffic lights) more efficiently.

“The real benefits will shine through in brand new applications.”

But the exciting thing about 5G is that its real power has yet to be seen, because developers may come up with all sorts of applications we haven’t even imagined yet.

 

How does 5G work?

Any and all wireless communications – from radio broadcasts to mobile data and beyond – use frequencies within the electromagnetic spectrum. This encompasses everything from mobile signals to gamma rays, micro waves to light. Mobile communications are on the lower end of the spectrum, using radio-strength frequencies to send waves of information.

 

The radio frequencies currently used for 5G in the UK are similar to the ones we use for 4G services. Where 4G uses frequencies between 800 megahertz (MHz) and 2.6 gigahertz (GHz), 5G uses frequencies between 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz. In comparison, your television transmission uses frequencies of up to 806 MHz, and Wi-Fi is between 2GHz and 5GHz.

Crucially, these frequencies, along with new mast technology, allow for greater bandwidth, letting more data flow back and forth between devices at greater speeds.

What are Vodafone’s 5G network plans?

Our 5G network – offering unparalleled speeds and plans with unlimited monthly data – is live right now in the following places around the UK:

  • Birkenhead
  • Birmingham
  • Bolton
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Gatwick
  • Glasgow
  • Lancaster
  • Liverpool
  • London
  • Manchester
  • Newbury
  • Plymouth
  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • Wolverhampton

Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton and Warrington are coming later in 2019.

We’re also launching 5G in more countries than anyone else. So including the UK, we now offer 5G in more than 60 towns and cities across Italy, Spain and Germany.

In the meantime, you can pop into a store or visit vodafone.co.uk/5g to find out about our devices and plans.

Will people in rural areas benefit?

We’re working on rolling out 5G as fast as possible without rushing the process. We’ll be adding new cities, towns and destinations to our 5G roster all the time, with our aim to cover as much of the UK as possible.

You can see the current shape of our 5G coverage at vodafone.co.uk/network/status-checker.

Do I need a new device?

Yes you do. Qualcomm announced the first 5G modem for smartphones – the Snapdragon X50 – in 2016, while several new phones unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2019 in March boasted 5G capabilities.

Right now there are a handful of state-of-the-art 5G-capable smartphones available at vodafone.co.uk – including the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G and the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G – with more arriving all the time.

Can I use 5G abroad?

Whether you’re relaxing at home or travelling for work or pleasure, Vodafone consumer and business customers can now enjoy 5G roaming in more than 60 cities and towns across Europe, including 15 in the UK – that’s more than any other network.

That’s because Vodafone 5G is now live across four countries – Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK – and you can access our network at no additional cost, making Vodafone the perfect choice for your summer holidays or work trip.

Is 5G safe?

The short answer is: yes – there is no scientific evidence that 5G frequencies are harmful to humans.

These frequencies are in the non-ionising radiation zone, meaning that they can’t damage biological cells. It’s the ionising radiation that’s potentially dangerous – gamma rays, x-rays, microwaves, and ultraviolet (UV) light, for example. This is why you shouldn’t spend too much time in the sunshine without UV protection.

There has been some concern expressed about a form of 5G called millimetre wave (mmWave) that uses much higher radio frequencies (typically in the 28GHz range). This ultra-high-speed, high capacity version will need more masts because the signals can only travel over shorter distances.

But again, these frequencies are non-ionising so they’re not harmful to people or other living things.

At the moment, mmWave 5G is more likely to be used in the US, with the UK adopting the technology in the next few years.

Like any other service, we will still have to ensure that we comply with the international guidelines set by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

In July 2018, the ICNIRP declared that none of the frequencies used by mobile communications, including 5G, required amendments to their existing safety guidelines.

More on everything 5G:

Here are a few more 5G stories to help bring you up to speed…