Getting up to speed with 5G

Written by: Jon Watkins Posted: 24/09/2018

BL58 5G illoThe next generation of mobile networks promises faster download speeds and better connectivity. But how will 5G benefit the Channel Islands? and how well equipped are they for the roll-out of another island-wide network?

It’s so often the case with technological developments that no sooner has something been introduced than the conversation moves swiftly on to the next iteration. Step forward 5G, otherwise known as fifth-generation mobile networks.

While the dust has barely settled on the implementation of 4G – the mobile network we use to make calls, text and connect to the internet when outside of wifi – discussion has already turned to what 5G could add to our lives.

Mobile connectivity has certainly come a long way since the first-generation network (1G) made it possible to make ‘mobile’ calls in the 1980s. The following decade, 2G brought the introduction of text and picture messaging. The subsequent 3G network added video conferencing and mobile data, while 4G brought with it enough bandwidth and speed to download music and movies direct to mobile phones.

So what will the fifth iteration add? And what will it mean for individuals and businesses in the Channel Islands?

Daragh McDermott, Corporate Affairs Director at Jersey-based telecoms provider JT, believes that from a day-to-day perspective, 5G won’t make a huge difference to people’s lives. The real opportunity rests with equipping the islands for a far more technologically advanced future.

“The big revolution in connectivity came with the launch of 4G,” he says. “We saw a massive demand for the extra capacity and speed because that was lacking at the time. A lot of talk around 5G is about fast download times and the ability to carry more data. The truth is, you can do those things today. 5G vendors talk up the market for their own interests, but most of the things people will use the network for are already covered by 4G.

“Where it will really add value is with things that require guaranteed connectivity and, more importantly, ultra-low latency – breakdowns or time lapses in the transfer of data,” he adds. 

“If you look at the developments on the horizon, such as remote surgery or driverless cars – where a vehicle is moving autonomously and you need to know exactly what’s around it at every moment, with instant data and feedback – 5G will be able to deliver that because it will sit on a fibre connection for the first time. But that won’t be an overnight change.”

That view is echoed by Tony Moretta, CEO of Digital Jersey, the body set up to support sustainable economic growth in Jersey’s digital industry.

“From a consumer perspective, it’s unhelpful to talk up 5G too much because it’s a long way off implementation and it doesn’t really provide anything different for consumers,” he says. “It’s not about speed – we already have speed.”

However, Moretta acknowledges that 5G will be important for ensuring the islands retain their position as a desirable destination for tech businesses and investors.

He adds that a considered and cautious approach to its roll-out will be essential. “Implementing 5G will require a lot of planning and infrastructure work,” he says. “What we don’t want to do is rush this by thinking we have the right roadmap, but end up going down a cul-de-sac we can’t return from, while the rest of the world goes a different way. 
We need a genuine roadmap.”

Consultation and implementation

So, what might that roadmap look like? Tim Ringsdore is a Director at the Channel Islands Competition & Regulatory Authorities (CICRA), which has launched a consultation across the islands to source the views of those likely to be affected. 

“In terms of timeframes, we’ve made a good start,” he says. “We’ve been working very closely with Ofcom and there are already spectrum [operating] licences and test and innovation licences available should any operators want to come to the islands to test 5G.

“In terms of an actual commercial launch, a lot of that will be down to the operators and when they believe it’s right to start pushing those services. But we’re expecting that to happen around 2020 or 2021.

“We see it probably being rolled out in a slightly different way to 4G,” he adds. “4G was an island-wide roll-out, but our feeling is that this will be more around the town areas first, where there’s a higher-density population, and then rolled out elsewhere.”

Despite that view, JT’s McDermott says the islands are already in a strong position to advance implementation. “We recently completed roll-out of full fibre to every broadband connection in Jersey, which is a world first and is essential to successful implementation,” he says.

“It means there’s phenomenal connectivity available to every house on the island – and that’s important because fibre is the crucial underlying element to 5G. The various mobile sites will need to be connected by fibre to handle all the data traffic that it will carry.”

Guernsey plans

In Guernsey, the situation is slightly different. But Justin Bellinger, Chief Digital Officer at Sure International, says the island is still in a strong position. 

“Guernsey uses the same technology as the UK, which is basically the BT Infinity product,” he says. “As a result, we have just under 500km of fibre installed and we’re continuously investing in that. All business districts, all schools, all government buildings are in place. What remains is to fill the gaps that exist in some of the more remote areas and the less built-up areas.”

While some speculation remains about the level of work required to fully implement 5G, one issue all parties seem to agree on is that 5G will further enhance the islands’ investment appeal – not least as a sandbox for tech firms.

“The beauty of an island so small is that it’s quite easy to link up governments, regulators, utility companies and providers of any services,” says Bellinger. “It’s one of the reasons we have flourished in the past. From an offshore perspective, we’re well connected to the main transatlantic cable systems – which makes Guernsey an intrinsic part of the links between Europe and the US. 

“The islands host around 50 per cent of the entire global infrastructure for online gambling. We’re obviously attractive to certain parts of the financial services sector. And we have some innovative cloud-based products and data centres on the islands. So we’re very well placed, and 5G will simply enhance that appeal well into the future.”

CICRA’s Ringsdore agrees: “We want to make sure we maintain our position and encourage further investment, because the government’s policies are very strong in terms of the digital economy – and 5G will enable applications to be developed that we can’t even think of today. 

“It gives these developers the chance to think way outside of the box. When we have a 5G network here as well as fibre, there’s very little you could think of that couldn’t be developed here in the islands. That’s a great place to be.”

5G in focus

The 5G network will differ from the previous four iterations in that it will sit on a fibre network – delivering faster connections as well as economic benefits:
• Downloading a full HD movie on 4G takes around seven minutes. With 5G, it’s expected to take between 10 and 40 seconds.
• US-based provider Verizon says its technology can achieve download speeds that are 30 to 50 times faster than 4G.
• 5G will also have much lower latency, which means you’ll see very little delay or lag when you do things on your phone or other device. On 4G, latency is around 45 milliseconds. With 5G, it’s expected to be one millisecond.
• O2 recently forecast that 5G would save businesses significant amounts of time, including £6bn a year in productivity savings in the UK alone.
• Qualcomm estimates that by 2035, 5G will support the production of up to £8.5 trillion worth of goods and services.

 


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