As mobile phones become more sophisticated, we have also evolved the content we use; not so long ago we were overwhelmed by the fact that we could share images on our handsets or listen to music, but now your average smartphone is used for streaming HD video, consuming whole albums and providing an online experience that comes close to what you would get on a desktop computer.
The game has changed and with the years we have seen a wide range of network standards, such as GPRS, 3G and, most recently, 4G. Despite the rapid development of technology, we are still at a point where the average mobile network is struggling to meet our data needs, and many people in rural areas still do not have reliable 4G or even 3G coverage.
Based on these points, how far away are we from the dream of an always-on connection that delivers the speed we need for HD – or even 4K – movie streaming, no matter where we are? Can we ever really come to the point where Wi-Fi speeds are possible if we leave the comfort of our homes?
Where we are now
"This is already a reality for millions of consumers in large parts of the UK," says BT Managing Director and Chief Architect Neil McRae. "With latency-sub-50ms and average speeds of 30 Mbps – with peak speeds of up to 400 Mbps – many consumers already have a great mobile video experience. Where I am now, my smartphone can download more than 100 MB / sec, so for watching TV or video, it is perfect without buffering. "
McRae admits that this situation is not the same for many mobile users in the UK, but adds that companies such as BT are constantly expanding their network coverage to include notspots & # 39; to remove and more people can receive – and that is the first step in realizing the dream of always-on mobile internet.
"There are still black spots, but we remove them every day with brand new sites or new frequencies that reach further," he says. "Today we cover 91% of the geography in the UK with 4G – that's 15 points – or more than 35,000 square kilometers – more than the 3G network. We have built more than 300 new sites in 2018 and in 2017 we have 10 % added to our landmassage coverage, which does not sound much until you realize that this is the equivalent of a larger space than Wales. "
McRae admits that network providers naturally focus on areas that are densely populated, but the goal is to include all & # 39; notspots & # 39; remove as quickly as possible, so that everyone has at least a connection, and that paves the way for advanced technology such as 5G.
The 5G revolution
5G is, in the opinion of McRae, something of a game-changer when it comes to fulfilling the vision of high-speed data access wherever you are in the UK. "The use of the network at large, densely populated locations such as stadiums, concerts, train stations and airports will improve because of 5G technology," he says. "Although 4G has helped in these areas, technology may struggle to deal with both the required bandwidth and the volume of devices that make requests, 5G helps us to solve that.
"The radio interface has been redesigned to reduce latency and allow priority to traffic to keep latency low." The core network, which builds on 4G Long Term Evolution, goes to an architecture that is much more similar to the fixed broadband network, with many more of the core capabilities distributed closer to the network user. "
"In fact, latency is the responsiveness of the network, how fast it can get a response from the internet, a few milliseconds can be vital in many industrial, medical or automotive applications, and for consumers the mobile multiplayer will enable gaming, and it will be the difference between VR and AR experiences that we have today and those that can not be distinguished from reality in the future: a Turing test for mobile experiences.
"Finally, 5G enables a much higher throughput – that is the bandwidth available for each connection and the speed at which data is transmitted or delivered." The average speed on our 4G network today is 30 Mbps, and 5G can increase that further. bandwidth comes with a higher resolution video. "
All these things mean that when it comes to consuming media along the way, 5G will undergo a revolution everything. "We have more devices to use with better quality video," explains McRae. "And mixed reality – AR and VR experiences become the norm Five years ago Facebook and Twitter were mostly filled with static images, and Netflix and YouTube were only really usable on Wi-Fi, 4G has changed that: the standard in social media, and Netflix continuously shows the largest data growth of every service on our mobile network.
"In the coming years, when 5G networks get the upper hand and a high speed, low latency connection is widely available to consumers, brands will create immersive, mixed reality experiences and with the Internet of Things and more connected personalities. , there will be a digital overlay to our real-world environments, with endless possibilities for media interactions. "
It is not just pre-recorded media that use the power of 5G; McRae thinks that the arrival of the next generation mobile network will change the way we look at live events, such as sports and music concerts. "Maybe you're watching the MotoGP at Silverstone," he explains. "With 5G it is possible to provide fans with high-quality, real-time updates of accompanying applications, allowing you to connect directly to the track in the action anywhere on the track.
"I also believe that 5G will usher in a much more converged approach to services and that much more social interaction will be possible – so if you have a football match and you know your friends are watching at home, it is possible to link socially what going on in the stadium to what's going on with your friends. "
An always-on future
That's all well and good, but another headache that mobile users have when they wander off their expensive Wi-Fi hub is the data delivery of their telephone contract; Using more media on the go – especially 4K video – will not be feasible, at least not on the current mobile deals. McRae admits that this is a problem, but the industry is changing, and by the time 5G is fully approved, contract limits will be extended to accommodate increased data consumption.
"The plans we're selling today go up to 100 GB, so we enable customers to enjoy as much mobile video as they want, because we've improved network capabilities and apps and services have become more data-intensive, and have shown customers that they want to watch video on mobile, we've developed the data plans we offer, it's changing and it will continue to change 5G will significantly improve the network's economy, but it will always be important to ensure that we can invest in the network to add coverage, capacity and new opportunities. "
Eventually, McRae thinks that 5G will take the impression that leaving the house – and your Wi-Fi connection – means lower speeds, loss of connectivity and a slower experience, so the dream of an always-on connection can be closer than you think. "My vision for 5G is that smartphone users do not know – or need to know – how to connect, only that the experience is always brilliant: the perception of infinite capacity, no matter where they are or what they do. I am confident that we will do that, then in theory we do not need 6G. "
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