As of now, Britain ranks first in the world when it comes to delivering 4G speeds but a dismal 54th in the world for 4G coverage. "Our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible. That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce," said the National Infrastructure Commission.
As one of our readers pointed out, 4G coverage isn't the sole issue. We covered how RootMetrics labelled the National Infrastructure Commission’s data on 4G coverage as 'unreliable' since it was based on crowd-only collected data which may have contained certain biases. Our reader pointed out that while 4G coverage was certainly the problem, the country lags behind even in terms of 3G and 2G coverage.
"I find this article condescending, in that you are all concerned about the roll out of 4g when a large proportion of the country still has to receive 3G or even a reliable 2g service. When we all have a decent baseline service then expand and improve. Vodafone is a prime example. These giants do not care about their old equipment and baseline services, They massage the figures to show their promises to the government to improve and extend their systems where reality is basically "lip service" to satisfy share holders and profits," he wrote.
In such a scenario, does it make sense to plunder resources on 5G development when existing network coverage is below par? EE has promised to cover 95% of the country with 4G services by 2019 an other networks, including Three, claim that country-wide 4G coverage won't be possible until spectrum allocations is limited to 30% for a single network provider. As things stand, we may probably see EE enjoying 4G monopoly in huge swathes of territory by 2020 and thanks to lack of competition, pricing could become a major issue.
However, assuming that 5G network is implemented in five major cities by 2023 thanks to joint action and government funding, there are many ways through which it may change the way we work and operate. According to the National Infrastructure Commission, 5G will be "ultra-fast and ultra-reliable, transmitting massive amounts of data at super low latency. It will support the ever increasing requirements of the existing network and new applications as unknowable today as the 4G services we take for granted would have been a decade ago. If government acts now we can ensure our major transport networks and urban centres are 5G ready in time to give British industry every chance to lead the world in exploiting its applications."
UK 4G coverage full of digital deserts and notspots, says National Infrastructure Commission
According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance which includes mobile network operators, manufacturers, vendors and multiple research institutes as members, future 5G networks will come with data rates of tens of megabits per second for tens of thousands of users, data rates of 100 megabits per second for metropolitan areas, 1 Gb per second simultaneously to many workers on the same office floor and significant reduction in latency compared to existing LTE networks.
So if you are residing in a metropolitan area or any of the major cities, you should be among the first to receive 5G coverage and your data usage per second will naturally be a lot more than what you use now. Your streaming and downloading will be faster and you will be able to control your smart gadgets at home and work seamlessly using your smartphone.
The Alliance also adds that 5G will integrate telecommunication technologies like mobile, fixed, optical and satellite and industries like automotive, transportation, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, and media and entertainment will be able to function thanks to the low latency rate of 5G and its support for hundreds of devices within a small area.
Only 40% of UK has 4G coverage from big 4 networks
Even though a 5G network will be many times faster than existing 4G networks, it will require a lot of equipment and sensors to work effectively. This is because it's high frequencies will have shorter ranges and will require robust infrastructure to support the higher bandwidth it offers. At the same time, high frequencies can be impacted by different construction materials, leaves of trees and raindrops and hence, the deployment of equipment will have to be done keeping such factors in mind. As such, 5G will require a lot of capital and effort to function and how soon it will take for the networks to implement nationwide 5G coverage can be anybody's guess.
A recent Connected Nations 2016 report from Ofcom revealed that geographical 4G coverage offered by the four networks across the country is still poor, even though major improvement has taken place over the last year. Total geographic 4G coverage has risen from 8% in 2015 to 40% this year, signifying an increase by five times, but rural areas as well as motorways and railways continue to suffer from lack of coverage, leaving travellers high and dry. It will thus be interesting to see if UK networks will be able to cover the entire geographical area of the country by the time the first 5G masts are rolled ot.