5G in a nutshell: What’s all the fuss about, and can charities benefit?

The ‘fifth generation’ of mobile connectivity is about to transform industries everywhere – and charities are no exception.

Chloe Green | 27th Sep 19

After much hype, 5G is finally here in the UK. Operators are starting to launch the first 5G networks, and you can now go out and buy the first mobile phones with 5G connectivity (for a hefty premium).

But what exactly is 5G, how is it different, and why should charities be interested?

While previous generations of mobile connectivity have been improvements on the last, 5G, or the ‘fifth generation’ of mobile internet connectivity, is a new technology that demands a radically different infrastructure.

Future-facing South Korea and China were the first to develop it. In May, EE became the first company in the country to switch on commercial 5G, with rivals Vodafone and EE soon following suite. But for the moment it is only available in certain cities, and on limited devices.

> See also: What will it mean if the internet is everywhere?

Whichever network you choose, everyone will eventually need to buy a 5G phone to take advantage of it, with a 5G data contract.

5G promises network speeds ten to twenty times faster than current networks, which may not sound too impressive, but put it this way – it would be enough to download a HD film, which currently takes about half an hour, in 25 seconds. Most things would be more or less instant. Think 1990s dial-up internet, with images that would load one by one on a screen, compared to the internet speeds we have today – but without the 20 year wait.

The government has invested over £6.85 billion to build the infrastructure that 5G will rely on. All of this investment is about far more than just faster Netflix viewing. As Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “5G is about more than mobile phone consumers having a fast and reliable connection anywhere in the country. It’s a vital piece of technology that can be used to improve the productivity and growth of our industrial sectors.”


A tech revolution

The unprecedented speeds (and, to get more technical, latency, coverage and capacity) that 5G promises are exciting because this could enable all sorts of new and emerging technologies that existing networks and devices just don’t have the capacity to run at scale – think mobile virtual and augmented reality, and, crucially, the Internet of Things.

As more of the world becomes connected to the internet, these new use cases will require new types of increased performance which rest on 5G technology.

The Internet of Things, in a nutshell, consists of sensors and devices which ‘talk’ to the cloud through the internet. Billions more devices are likely to become connected, from smart toasters and fridges, to lampposts, shop tills and contactless donation buckets.

Experts predict more than half of new businesses will run on the IoT by 2020, representing a ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

While operators are currently focusing on rolling out 5G to the UK’s major cities first, a £30m government funding pot is being offered to charities, tech firms and other organisations, including academics, to help ensure rural communities are covered by 5G mobile technology.

> See also: Charities and tech firms offered £30m to trial 5G in rural areas

The Rural Connected Communities project aims to “spark a tech revolution in countryside communities and help rural Britain seize the opportunities of 5G technology”, according to a statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DDCMS).

We’ll explore the Internet of Things in more depth in articles coming soon, but for charities, 5G could represent some massive improvements in efficiency just for a start. Charities will have faster access to the cloud data, tools and vendor updates that could drive them to be more productive with less money.

The advent of 5G will also see an influx of better services and user experiences from tech vendors hurrying to embrace its opportunities, which ultimately charities will benefit from to drive their missions.

Right now, rushing out to get the latest 5G-enabled phones and data is certainly not worth the expense – but it’s worth charities thinking ahead and knowing the benefits that this new world of internet connectivity will enable in 2020 and the decade to come.