When EE and Vodafone launched their 5G networks in May and July, it raised the question of what the impact was going to be and when it was going to be felt.
According to digital connectivity rating company WiredScore’s technical director Sanjaya Ranasinghe, author of the report ‘Implications of 5G on the built environment’, 5G is still in the early stages of deployment and many will not yet feel its effects. Currently, mobile phone operators are updating the masts and base stations that are used for 4G to make them 5G capable. Selected major cities across the UK have access to the service if you have one of the few 5G capable devices available.
Ranasinghe writes that this period before the mass adoption of 5G in the next few years, is the prime time for landlords to prepare for its eventual installation, as 5G comes with some complications.
Ranasinghe explains: “Simply put 5G operates on a higher frequency signal than 4G and as a result 5G can only be used over a smaller area of transmission. This means landlords are faced with two new questions: How will my buildings support citywide 5G coverage, and how can we provide ubiquitous mobile coverage to tenants within our buildings?”
5G operates across high frequencies between 30GHz and 300GHz and has a shorter wavelength than 4G. This means it is less permeable into buildings, especially new builds which are made from steel and concrete.
In order to ensure a good signal to the interior of the building, forward thinking is key according to Gareth Elliott, head of policy and communications at Mobile UK, the trade association for UK mobile network operators EE, 02, Three, and Vodafone: “Modern buildings are built from difficult to permeate materials, which makes them Faraday Cages so nothing can go in or out of them. This means they’ll end up retrofitted to allow for faster connectivity speeds. The built sector should be thinking of ways to bring the signal into the designs which isn’t currently considered to save themselves the cost and time of adapting the building later on.”
Also, for landlords and developers, 5G’s implementation could see their profits decline if they aren’t prepared. According to the ‘Poor Foundations: the state of UK Home Connectivity’ report published by WiredScore and the Home Owners Alliance in May, “two-thirds of residential developers can rent properties with good connectivity services at a higher price and/or with a greater yield.”
For built environments that didn’t consider the future implementation of 5G, the main solution seems to be small cells. WiredScore explained that “in order to overcome 5G signal transmission distance limitations, more and more transmission sites will be required to enable a WiFi-like deployment.”
Small cells act as a router and can be attached to street furniture like lampposts and traffic lights. With recent advancements in MIMO, multiple input multiple output, the small cells don’t need to be densely packed in highly populated areas, such as stadiums, as previously considered. MIMO acts as both a receiver and transmitter of data and as such helps to maximise data speeds.
Elliott explained that “small cells will have their roles to play in highly populated areas like stadiums and airports. The introduction of MIMO allows 4G and 5G to work together to achieve almost the same range with less difficulty.”
Small cells seem like the ideal and “easy” solution WiredScore reference in its report, but their mass deployment may come with additional hurdles. Each cell must be proposed at planning committees across the country, and not every council will agree on their usefulness.
According to Elliott, this is the main challenge the mobile industry is currently facing: “What needs to change in order to help 5G roll out everywhere across the UK is a planning reform, which we’re hoping to see at the Government’s planning reform meeting later this month.
“We also need political leadership to educate and inform people about what 5G can do, which is then more likely to be pushed. As each city is subdivided into boroughs, you can be approved for a cell on one side of the street but not the other. There is no silver bullet to help with the rollout of 5G, but what we currently need is simplified and consistent planning across local councils, and nationwide.”
The battle for planning permission and deployment raises questions about the worth of 5G. Ranasinghe said the comparison is on another level: “Latency is the delay of a network. If we use the metaphor of 4G and WiFi being a typewriter, then 5G is a word processor. 4G has a delay of 100 milliseconds, whereas 5G has a delay of 10 milliseconds. The latency of the human brain is 13 milliseconds, so with 5G, you have a network that goes faster than the human brain.”
This instantaneous connection will obviously provide faster upload and download speeds for properties and will increase productivity purely because of improved loading times. On a wider scale however, 5G will aid the development of new technology and apps with IoT considerations and the creation of Smart Cities.
According to telecommunications company Ericsson’s ‘5G deployment considerations’ report from last year “5G will enable enhanced mobile broadband services and create a huge potential for new value-added wireless services through a wide range of new use cases. These new cases include fibre-equivalent Fixed Wireless Access services, massive Internet of Things service, and critical IoT enabling new applications in the automotive, manufacturing, energy & utilities, and health care sectors, among others.”
Ranasinghe said: “From a city perspective, a smart building already exists, but with 5G we can encourage these IoT devices to connect with other buildings and communicate with each other. This will create a smart experience where you can be connected wherever you go and will adapt to you.
“Logistically, it will create seamless smart interaction. For example, the idea of deliveries could be revolutionised. If your package has a small 5G sensor inside, then it will provide a constant live feed up to the very second it’s delivered, and it will give you that real next generation resolution on something as simple as tracking a package.”
“5G isn’t ready today, but there are buildings in the pipeline that will take another five years to build. Developers should be paying attention to the deployment of 5G to ensure that their buildings can stand the test of time.”
5G is still in the pipeline, but looks set to revolutionise how we live and how we work. It’s important to be prepared for its eventual full deployment. According to statistics from Building Modern Britian’s ‘Councils and Connectivity’ report from 2018, those who don’t pay attention now, will be paying for it later: “4G and 5G mobile connectivity is estimated to add £18.5bn to the economy by 2026, and the UK’s leadership in 5G could result in the opportunity to create £173bn of incremental UK GDP growth over a ten-year period from 2020 to 2030.”