/ Technology

5G has arrived: what does it mean for you?

The latest generation of mobile connections has been switched on, but what will it mean for us in our day-to-day lives?

I took part in a small piece of history on Thursday morning when I joined BBC reporter Sarah Walton in London’s Covent Garden to talk about the launch of 5G in six UK cities. We were broadcasting live for the first time in the UK over the new 5G network.

Of course, these things never happen entirely smoothly and there were some teething problems at one point during the broadcast:

By the time I returned to the camera position during the afternoon, the crew had reverted to broadcasting over the 4G network.

Earlier in the day, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones had had to confess to viewers that the crew had already run out of the data allowance on the 5G sim card that was beaming the pictures back to Broadcasting House.

Needless to say, it was quickly topped up by embarrassed EE PRs.

Thursday’s launch was just of EE’s network; the other providers will shortly follow suit. Wrinkles notwithstanding, the launch of 5G is a big deal for Britain.

It’s a step towards a society in which everything is much more connected than we are at present – though I’ll leave it up to you to judge whether you think that’s a good thing.

What does 5G mean for us?

So, can we access the new network immediately? Yes, but only if you’re an existing EE customer or are prepared to switch to EE.

You’ll also need to be in one of the six launch cities: London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham. EE says it’s also hoping to add the busiest parts of Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield to its 5G network later this year.

EE is going to lend me a 5G phone for a few days and I’ll report back later on what it’s actually like to use on a day-to-day basis.

Early testers have been reporting speeds of up to 980Mbps, and at the BBC’s camera point on Thursday we were seeing speeds of around 500Mbps, which is roughly 10 times what a good 4G connection can provide.

In practice that means superfast downloading and streaming of video – you’ll be able to watch 4K movies on the go. 

A new generation of connected tech

Further down the track, gaming will switch from being device-based to being cloud-based thanks to new services such as Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud.

And perhaps most futuristic of all, experts think 5G will mean a new generation of connected cars that not only drive themselves but also share information between themselves in real time about road conditions, traffic and weather, meaning they can plan new routes on the fly to avoid jams.

5G is also expected to drive development of ‘smart cities’, where devices can exchange information with each other. That could be anything from streetlights to cameras, making adjustments on the fly to cope with weather, light conditions, crime and crowds.

Agriculture too will be making use of 5G technology, helping farmers manage livestock and crops via sensors, self-driving vehicles to make sure that animals are healthy, that fields get the optimum amount of fertilisers and that crops are harvested at the right time.

Is this all a good thing? As with any tech innovation, there are downsides. Inevitably this means devices that collect even more data about us, and the more dependent we are on tech, the more vulnerable we are if it goes down or, worse, if it’s attacked.

For now, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a 5G phone and seeing what it’s like in real-life use. What about you? Will you be rushing out to join the 5G revolution, or will you be sitting tight?

Comments

My phone is not compatible with 5G and I do my best to avoid city centres, but I can understand the benefits to those who live and work in areas where the service is available.

Maybe I will be able to enjoy 5G in a few years time, but in some rural areas my phone still sometimes shows ‘No service’, although these have become fewer in the last few years.

Phil says:
1 June 2019

My “No Service” events have become more common if anything. I only have one bar now.

5G needs lots of antennas placed quite close together and driverless cars will need a reliable 5G network. Just how are they going to roll it out into the countryside generally let alone National Parks, AONBs, tunnels etc.

Well, here in the mountains our mobile signal is currently 1G – when it works, that is. Most of the time it doesn’t. But I can dream of a second home in Westminster where my IOT ‘fridge will be able to order my groceries before I’ve even realised what I need, where Netflix films will be able to download so quickly my hard drive will melt and where I’ll have to have words with the car because of the non-stop nattering it’s having with those beguiling traffic lights on the A5. Shameless hussy.

Ian, 1G was turned off in October 2000 and only ever existed on Vodafone and Cellnet (which later became O2). Do you mean 2G?

I wasn’t being serious, NFH; I should have said “half a G” and made the point 🙂

I finally sent my first mobile to phone heaven when clearing out a drawer last month that had been “input only” for 30 years. It was a decent size, analogue of course, the battery used to last about 30 minutes talk time and almost 6 hours stand-by back in the day. And the SIM was the size of a credit card.

Reception here in rural Essex is one bar on one network only – 3G.

Kevin says:
1 June 2019

I’ve heard it’s going to be so fast that it will be obsolete before it’s deployed. With 6G you’ll be able to download a 4k movie before it’s been made, and gamers will be able to play against actual aliens.

Those poor country folk without access to it will devolve into drooling cave people, bashing their touchscreens with rocks in frustration.

There’s wifi almost everywhere I go in London, so I use so little mobile data that I switched to Three pay-as-you-go at the end of 2016. I pay just 1p/MB for only the data that I use, mostly on 4G. I doubt that 5G will make much difference to me, except when I go abroad where I use a lot more data, often with foreign SIM cards. The next iPhone is not expected to support 5G anyway.

I avoid using free WiFi because despite efforts to opt-out of marketing I have received email. I prefer to use mobile broadband and my 5GB monthly allowance covers my needs. It helps that most people have wireless routers these days, and have the password handy for visitors.

Kate, I did read the report about public wifi on pages 22 to 25 of Which Computing last August, but a lot of it is overhyped.

Using an iPhone on the likes of O2 wifi, The Cloud and Virgin Media (on the Tube) are perfectly safe. The only risk is from evil twins, and even then there’s not much an evil twin can do unless you’re entering passwords and other sensitive data such as credit card numbers. For the typical high bandwidth tasks such as app updates, watching YouTube and BBC iPlayer, Facebook (where the app is pre-authenticated via a stored SSL token), Google Maps etc, it’s a huge scare story to advise against using public wifi.

It would be far more useful to educate readers on what’s risky to do via public wifi rather than give blanket advice against using it.

As far as banking is concerned, there’s a massive difference in security risk between logging in manually via a web browser and opening a banking app that is pre-authenticated with a stored token. The latter is very low risk, even via an evil twin wifi network, whereas the former is very high risk.

Sadly, I don’t even know what a G is let alone five of them. My ‘smart?’ phone just makes calls and connects to the web via wifi – free – and mobile signal – extortionate – when I want it to. How it connects I leave to the chip inside. Since I am so far behind the times, I don’t think 5G is going to interest me all that much. Like the latest TV’s, when the picture is sharp enough one stops worrying about the screen quality. If it makes businesses more efficient, then roll it out, if it is a gimmick for phone aficionados, then why bother? How fast do you need to get?

When all these things happen more quickly – 5G, internet, HS2, – what do we do with all the time that is saved? All our county roads have had reduced speed limits over the last few years, and we ditched Concorde. We see more delays than ever on commuter trains – and on the road commuting. Funny thing, this speed.

Mobile communications are an essential part of life these days. A reliable 4G service across the country would be useful to more people than having 5G in selected areas. In the meantime I will have to continue to look at ‘No service’ on my phone and calls that drop, as I did several times yesterday.

5G would allow to watch high resolution movies, etc without the need of fibre cables. Oddly enough the areas without fibre cables are exactly the ones that won’t see 5G for a long time.

Michael Williams says:
1 June 2019

It would be nice if we could even get a reliable 2 or 3G signal here —- (rural Aberdeenshire) long before upgrading the big cities to an even “better” connection.
Whatever happened to the promise of country wide signal availability?
Or was that an election promise.
Michael.

Caroline says:
2 June 2019

Speed?? Don’t the days zoom by fast enough? Thousands of 5G masts churning out electro magnetic radiation at alarming rates will certainly speed up our burgeoning health issues. Do the research on the real implications this extra toxic load 5G will deliver to our bodies. I’m moving to the countryside and will rejoice in smelling the roses while I wait for my emails to download!!

Caroline, I don’t understand your logic. Why should 5G give out more electromagnetic radiation than 4G? More masts, closer together serving smaller areas, means they are on lower power. Isn’t this a good thing?

You say that you’re moving to the countryside, but do you realise that the electromagnetic radiation can be higher there? This is because masts are further apart and are therefore on higher power.

I’ve been looking at this for some time and it’s surprising how tricky it is to get accurate information. There are, however, some things we know for sure:

* Mini masts will be in exponentially greater numbers than current mobile ‘phone masts. One every few houses is a good estimate.
* 5G signals are easily absorbed – by buildings, human skin, glass…
* Numerous studies using mice and rats subjected to intense doses of EMF for years have yielded no confirmation of potential risk from EMF
* 5G uses mm wavelength EMF and it’s fair to say that no long term studies of the effect of this wavelength EMF on humans have yet been done.

But we’ve been immersed in EMF since we were born, and it still seems cancers are caused primarily by other factors.

It’s probably safe to say that in terms of lifetime risk, cars, lorries, pollution, bird ‘flu, bad curries, nasty people, stepladders, hose pipes, nuts, electricity, tumble driers, nail guns, the common cold and motorway service stations rank far higher on the scale than 5G.

Derek Putley says:
2 June 2019

This does indeed seem to be an area where it is hard to get clear and unbiased information.

Here’s a couple of weblinks that highlight some of the issues:

reuters.com/article/us-swiss-5g/switzerland-to-monitor-potential-health-risks-posed-by-5g-networks-idUKKCN1RT159

thestar.com.my/tech/tech-news/2019/05/07/5g-is-here-is-it-a-technological-leap-forward-or-a-health-concern/

I expect that it will be hard to prove that 5G is absolutely safe and also hard to prove that it is actually significantly dangerous.

The truth is, we don’t know whether mobile signals/electromagnetic fields/radio waves/microwaves/radiation/and anything else flying invisibly in the air around us is a heath hazard or not as much of it has not been around long enough to gauge the true effects.

On the internet, we can all find proof either way.

The companies pushing us to buy their latest tech are certainly not going to tell us, but we already know dismantling it for recycling is extremely hazardous to health.

It does seem birds, bees and insects are affected, so only time will tell if we are unwittingly participating in a human-created population destruction.

Carl says:
3 June 2019

Absolutely. We have many studies which demonstrate the safety of radiation in the 5G spectrum. Both UV, and ionising radiation can cause DNA damage, which can cause tissue damage or lead to cancer in the longer term. However, other forms of radiation do not impact on biological systems, and consequently, it should not be a surprise that they are quite safe.

Carl says:
3 June 2019

There is no toxic load associated with this form of radiation. There are no biological mechanisms which would be affected by 5G, or biomedical concerns around 5G radiation.

Kate Bevan says: 3 June 2019

Actually, yes, we do know that they’re not a health hazard, not least from the simple fact that despite the fact we’ve been using radiation in technology for a long time

Kate: Although I agree with you that any hazard posed by 5G and its associates is most unlikely to present, I would take issue with the absolute certainty of your first phrase above. I believe the best we can say is “From all the evidence we have thus far we can be confident that they do not present a health hazard”.

I’m sorry to be nitpicking but I’ve learnt through hard experience that we can rarely if ever be certain of anything regarding technology and human health.

https://www.euronews.com/2019/03/26/what-are-the-health-risks-associated-with-a-5g-network
Have the effects of 5G waves on our health been studied enough?

The issue with the question of what risk 5G poses to human health is that “nobody knows”, Dariusz Leszczynski, an expert in molecular biology and Adjunct Professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland, told Euronews.

“The assurances of safety concerning 5G-emitted radiation are based solely on the assumption that low amounts of radiation are safe, not on biomedical research,” he added.

Specifically, the question mark lies over the effects of millimetre waves, also known as extremely high frequency, that 5G will tap into: “We don’t know what they will mean in practice for our immune systems.”

“High-frequency waves only penetrate a few millimetres into the body and this is being used as a ‘no worries’ card by industries — but our skin is the biggest organ in the body and is linked to numerous things including immune response,” Leszczynski explained.

5G networks: Are they dangerous to our health?
https://www.dw.com/en/5g-networks-are-they-dangerous-to-our-health/a-47981285

Scientists call for Protection from Non-ionizing Electromagnetic Field Exposure:
https://www.emfscientist.org/index.php/emf-scientist-appeal

I suspect one other factor that may or may not be relevant is that 5G transmitters are essentially microwaves on poles. We all know it’s unwise to hack a microwave so it runs with the door open, and for good reason, but the power levels of 5G will be far, far lower than a domestic microwave and the Inverse Square Law helpfully tells us that the distance they’ll be from humans is going to reduce any potentially harmful effects to a near zero probability.

The inverse square law ensures that the strength of the signal falls rapidly away from the transmitter. On the other hand, a mobile handset is much closer. I’m not aware of evidence that existing mobiles present any danger I virtually always use mine in hands-free mode.

As others have said, it’s not possible to prove that anything is safe. In a few years we should know more about 5G, which uses a different frequency range to 4G and 3G bands.

It would be interesting to know if 5G will cause problems with radio and TV interference.

I was assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the real issue would be the transmitter output, since the mobile output itself would be significantly lower.

The transmitted signals from masts will affect everyone, even if they don’t use a mobile phone. Like those living very close to pylons, those near phone masts, and radio/TV masts are often concerned about the possible effect on their health, though I share your view that a problem has yet to be demonstrated.

Although the output of a mobile phone is tiny by comparison with a transmitter mast the phone is effectively much more powerful at short range thanks to the inverse square law that you mentioned. Someone must have worked out the relative amount of radiated power that the brain or body receives from a phone held against the ear compared with that from a phone mast.

I’m sure that we will continue to monitor possible harm of radio waves but as Alfa has pointed out it’s important not to ignore birds and insects.

DerekP says:
5 June 2019

Ian / All

Wikipedia seems to confirm my long help view that “Consumer ovens usually use 2.45 gigahertz (GHz)—a wavelength of 12.2 centimetres (4.80 in)—while large industrial/commercial ovens often use 915 megahertz (MHz)—32.8 centimetres (12.9 in).” so microwaves ovens use much lower frequencies than 5G.

I believe that the frequencies used in microwave ovens are deliberately chosen to maximise the absorption of radiated energy by water molecules.

I remember the announcement of 4G. At the time I did not have a smartphone but one of my friends in his late 50s was obsessed with the things. We did not have any lengthy discussion on Which? Convo: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/ee-4g-superfast-mobile-internet-posters-advertising-misleading/

Nowadays I take 4G for granted, though there are still times – like the last two days – when I’ve been in areas with no mobile signal at all.

In contrast my sat nav works almost everywhere, so maybe there is a better solution than covering everywhere with mobile phone masts.

Ian says:
3 June 2019

5G … download speeds so fast that a ten pound top-up can be used up in under 5 seconds.

Derek Putley says:
3 June 2019

Yeah that 🙂

Jenny J says:
4 June 2019

The cost of 5G on our health will be deadly, for those already sensitive to 4G this is only going to make matters worse. I love fast internet but not at the cost of my health and the environment.

Jenny: as I said to Kate, we simply don’t yet know, so to state the effects “will be deadly” is unfounded and cannot possibly be substantiated. What is clear is that there needs to be a great deal more biochemical research examining the wavelengths and power levels of 5G specifically.

4G can be fast if the networks put some effort into their infrastructure. Last month using my Lithuanian SIM card in Vilnius, a speed test showed it was 204Mbps. I’ve never seen speeds like this from a UK network.

https://www.speedtest.net/my-result/i/3248654166

Hugh says:
5 June 2019

And how will it benefit those of us who use their phone as just that? A phone.

Not much. Most people now use their “phones” as portable computers and rarely as a phone. When I make phone calls, I use apps like WhatsApp, which use data (usually over wifi) rather than conventional chargeable phone calls.

A few thoughts – and I’ve not read up on any of this so could be totally off beam (pun intended…)

I assume that the signals from the mast are time-division multiplexed? Mast power density will be substantially higher than a phone of course because it will be transmitting for ~50% occupancy (and receiving the rest of the time). However, instantaneous power from a phone in “transmit” mode to make it to the nearest mast will have to be quite high – and if it were on the fringe of mast reception, will have to be just as high as that from the mast, but occupancy will be possibly a fraction of a percent. For 5G with much higher carrier frequency, attenuation is greater so mast density will need to be correspondingly greater – with more fringe areas per square mile, so mobile RMS power on 5g will be significantly greater than the (comparatively) long wave stuff we are used to. I would be wary of clutching one of these close to the grey matter.

I wonder if anyone has ever done any study of the lensing effect of ear-worn jewellery on phone signals? Low odds perhaps, but give enough variations of earrings, distances and angles of phone cradling, it is just possible some ultra thin connections in the grey matter might burn out with focused phone beam. Cue an episode of The Avengers….

The device we carry and reach for in an emergency is called a phone, but with vast amounts of the country including rural villages, still unable to get a signal at all, the government should force providers to rectify this problem first.

Mike Johnson says:
3 July 2019

There is a large and growing body of evidence of the harm to life of artificial electromagnetic radiation to which we are now ubiquitously exposed. Mechanisms for cancer and other disease causations have been described in peer reviewed scientific literature.
In your recent magazine about the Internet of Things you state that there is no evidence of a link between mobile phone use and cancer. However, this fails to take account of the length of time cancers take to develop.
There is a trend for chronic low grade ill health, from symptoms such as the ubiquitous headaches to people whose live have been severely affected because they have become hypersensitive to electromagnetic frequencies.
You refer to 4G, there has been no meaningful, independent research on the health effects of the frequencies used by this system. There is even more concerns about 5G which runs on much higher frequencies to enable the “smart” future you envisage.
Over 200 scientists and doctors petitioned the EU for a moratorium on 5G as there has been no safety testing.
http://www.5gappeal.eu
Maybe do some research: https://www.emf-portal.org/en is a good place to start where many peer reviewed scientific papers are accessible

BT has launched 5G on the 11th October with BTPlus /Halo customers first to get the new service.

By chance I am looking for a new handset (*1), and I noted the Galaxy A90 sports “5G ready”. I think I’ll save my money being out in the sticks and still struggling to get a useable 3G signal anywhere except hanging out of an attic window!

*1: The hands-free connectivity of the STK has gone one-way only – I cannot hear the caller. It is device rather than car-dependent and I cannot immediately conceive of a hardware fault that would precipitate this, and am not proud of myself for – in this instance – not persevering with a fix. My self-excuses are:
1) the STK was bought as a stop-gap on impulse probably 2 years ago;
2) it is lacking a few features, notably the hardware sensors that make VR work well
3) the battery charge capacity has faded. Not badly and consistent with age – but sufficient to tip the balance of replace rather than repair.

An external cellphone aerial could come in handy where you are Roger, you will need to find the best signal strength by trial and error.
One guy found his in the attic but usually its outside the house.

WiFi calling is one of the benefits of having a modern mobile, assuming you have a wireless router.

Agreed, Wavechange. I do have wireless access points scattered around so I should perhaps investigate this again – I tried it once but gave up due to the stuttering (as if something was stuck to the capstin pressing the tape to the pinch wheel) and untenable lag between transmit and receive. Maybe now I’ve achieved the dizzy heights of almost 3.5Mbps downstream (but still only 750kbps down) I should try it again.

O2 used to offer WiFi texts, but they took that down much to my annoyance as it was a differentiator. Now when I go out a dozen texts will ping in, often advising of the need to retrieve voicemail.

Duncan – good shout. I’ve often thought of investigating this but never got around to it. Perhaps now is the time. I was assuming a smallish focussed external dish aiming at the nearest mast (about 4 miles away I think), with a short cable through the wall (or more likely roof) to an omni-directional but correctly tuned stub aerial indoors – all passive. Worth a try?

Your right about “all passive” Roger mobile cellnet companies know when you are using an amplifier and get very heated about it , many customers end up booted off their service with a big-“never come back” warning.
On the other hand internal boosting to another part of the house is okay ,have a look at-
https://cellantenna.co.uk/

When I am indoors I seem to have no problems using a landline to speak to people and clearly hear what they say. I can also use the portable handset in all rooms of the house and in the garden. I wouldn’t abandon that unless something far superior comes along.

Like cash, the landline phone will not become extinct soon but it is in decline. I’m surprised how many of my charity contacts, some quite elderly, who use mobiles. They are people who get out and about and would miss calls. In some cases they don’t want their wife or husband to be pestered with calls, so what we do is ask about preferred contact number. I ask people to ring my landline and leave a message unless they urgently need to pester me, and that’s usually taken in the right spirit.

I have read that we are moving to broadband contracts with phone calls as an add-on or PAYG, but no doubt we will find out if that is the case.

Being able to miss incoming calls is one of the joys of going out for a walk or to visit people!
Only two other people [and the banks] know my mobile number.

It is the case when BT & others move to VoIP in a few years time , to save me explaining read-
https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/04/swapping-to-broadband-voip-from-a-uk-copper-home-phone-line.html

My mobile lives on ‘silent’ much of the time, but friends are usually very good about leaving messages on the landline. I prefer to make rather than receive calls.

Thanks, Duncan. The solution on Cellantenna allegedly suitable for me is an active one at £259 plus VAT. Apart from the (presumably 2-way) gain, presumably completely devoid of any intelligence other than perhaps AGC, this looks like it’s worth a shot. I wonder why companies get upset at this as, with appropriate adjustment, it should make their life easier.

Many countries don’t like VoIP for their citizens because they lose finance as they control networks .
VoIP calls are “dirt cheap ” just ask the call scammers and you don’t need to buy multiple lines but what the businesses can do including”hiding ” their location etc so will the public be able to do IF they don’t make it easy to get recognised online.
https://www.vipvoip.co.uk/is-voip-legal-around-the-world/

When I was looking round houses early in 2016, one of things I checked was the mobile phone signal, not wishing to hang out of windows or stand in the garden to receive calls. I realised I would have to switch service providers and possibly obtain a signal booster. Before I had moved home, a decent 4G signal appeared. It might be worth Roger checking to see if there are any plans to improve mobile coverage in his area.