I vividly remember sitting in a bar in my hometown of Coventry, talking with a friend about the new Three devices, the earliest 3G mobile smartphones. I was in my teens, and it was the late 90s. We talked about how email would get faster. Little did we know, just how 3G would evolve people’s mobile use habits.
Now that 5G is slowly being unveiled, what could it mean for us?
First, my summary of the generations of mobile networks, and what they have enabled.
1st Generation (1979)
No one really called it “first generation” at the time. This is when it became possible to call other mobile users. The quality wasn’t great, and the cost was too expensive for most people.
2nd Generation (1991)
The step change here was an improvement in voice calls, by moving to digital protocols. Suddenly the mobile phone call was as good as, if not better, than landlines. The cost also came down significantly, and no longer were mobile phones just something for yuppies.
3rd Generation (1998)
It was really in the 3rd generation that we could confidently consider the birth of internet connected mobile devices. In the early days, the 3rd generation devices did ‘a bit’ of what our desktop computers did. That is, a bit of email, a bit of calendar, a bit of sharing photos. Within 5 years, 3G devices gave birth to new uses that were distinct from desktop. Services like Twitter and Facebook really evolved in this era. 3G was the photo sharing era.
4rd Generation (2009)
We’re already many years into 4G and it’s clear which services have really seen tremendous growth; Snapchat being the greatest surprise. Is it such a surprise though? 4G is about faster internet connect, so something that was a chore during 3G, suddenly became far less laborious in 4G – that something is sharing and consuming video.
What will the 5th Generation bring? (2020 approx)
Many companies are rallying to influence 5G, and stay ahead of the curve of the opportunities it will bring. The changes are quite obvious right, faster internet? Yes for sure. Although the standards for 5th Generation don’t appear that much of a leap from 4G, from my perspective.
However, watching major manufacturer’s reports suggest that the standards they are aiming for far exceed the protocol requirements. For example, 5G will accept internet speeds in metropolitan areas of 100 megabits per second – which is pretty much the same as 4G. However, Samsung are claiming to be working on units that will support 7.5 gigabits per second and Nokia 10 gigabits per second.
Speed it seems, isn’t the only important feature for 5G. The standards demand reliability and connectivity to far more devices.
5G is anticipated to support “smart cities” and “smart offices”, in which we’ll have far more internet connected devices, from laptops, desktops, mobiles through to climate control, security cameras, ovens, lights/bulbs and much more. Some of these devices are already here, such as internet connected thermostats. The protocols are still in their early days.
By 2025, we’ll look back over the ten years and ask each other, “did you ever think we’d connect one of these to the internet?”. I’m not sure what ‘one of these’ will be. It could be clothing. It could be jewellery. It could be carpets. It could be pillows. It could be towels. It could be paintings/art, rucksacks, socks. Who knows?
I think it’s likely that 5G will make it possible to do more with high resolution video. Today we’re excited by 4K, but of course, by 2020, 4K will be old hat. The first 8K televisions will be flying off the shelves by then. By 2025, 8K will be considered the new normal in video quality.
Head worn devices will be a big deal
One last prediction, I’d like to make, is related to both augmented reality and virtual reality. With so many other devices, in our surroundings, connected to the internet, we’ll be able to consume thousands time more information in the next 10 to 15 years.
We’ll be able to obtain information, instantly, about those things in our view, and in our immediate surroundings. For example, we’ll be able to look at people we’ve never met before, for our device to tell us “you have 10 mutual friends on Facebook”. Or we’ll be able to walk down a street, and without going into any property, we’ll know whether they are available to buy, or to rent and for how much. Hey, we won’t even need to walk along the street, we’ll be able to browse the neighbourhoods we’re interested in, from the warmth of our own armchairs, or our favourite coffee shop – this takes us in the realm of virtual reality.
This will make possible another, almost unimaginable, dream – true tele-meetings. What does that mean? Well, today we can video conference with anyone around the world, with a 4G standard internet connection, using services like Google Duo, Facebook Messenger or Microsoft Skype. The trouble is, that we’re restricted to using screens which are not entirely immersive. Whether it’s a 3 inch mobile, or a 65 inch screen, you don’t “feel” as though you’re in the presence of the people you’re tele-communicating with.
By the time 5G is here, immersive devices will be much more normal. This means, in 2025 we’ll wear headsets that entirely cover our eyes, and probably ears too. We’ll be able to wear the headsets, attend meetings, and be able to look at people we’re communicate with, as though they were in the same room as us. Virtual Reality is going to be big by 2025, and will need 5G.
Many of you who tell me today “I don’t like all this Facebook and Whatsapp, I prefer to meet in person”, I am sorry to say that the situation is going to get ‘worse’ for you.
I really think it’s good news. After all, the real problem today isn’t that people use Facebook and Whatsapp a lot, it’s that we all have a increasing number of commitments and connections.
Society before the Social Network era was so much simpler; we worked throughout the week, and then we visited family on the weekend. Today, and increasingly, thanks largely to the internet, we want to network with people who have similar interests with us. We also want the opportunity to work flexibly, not restricted by the standard 9 to 5 shifts in offices, or other shifts in manual work. I think instead of family taking up all of our Saturdays, increasingly we’ll interact more frequently using remote technologies, with our larger network. This might mean have a tele-meeting with parents for a hour, and then shift over to a close friend, then shift over and have a chat with someone who could teach you about a new topic you’re interested, and then even connect with people who you’re collaborating with on a voluntary activity.
Wow, does that freak you out? If I suggested to you in 2000 that instead of waiting to come back from your holiday thousands of miles away and then share photos with your family; you’ll be able to share your photos (and videos) instantly with your friends, whilst you’re still on your travels – you would probably have freaked out about that too.
Until next time, this is Ravi, I’ve got your back.