How fast is 5G?

5G

5G is set to transform the mobile landscape with blazing fast speeds, but just how fast are we talking?

5G isn’t here yet, in fact it probably won’t arrive until at least 2020, but it should be worth the wait, as it will make 4G and potentially even broadband look sluggish in comparison.

The exact speeds are yet to be finalised, but early tests are already achieving remarkable speeds and these give us a good idea of what we can expect when 5G finally launches.

Download speeds

The Next Generation Mobile Networks alliance states that for something to be considered 5G it must offer data rates of several tens of megabits per seconds to tens of thousands of users simultaneously, while a minimum of 1 gigabit per second should be offered to tens of workers on the same office floor.

That’s all a little vague, but the signs are promising. Some estimates put download speeds at up to 1000 times faster than 4G, potentially exceeding 10Gbps. That would enable you to download an entire HD film in less than a second.

Some sources, such as The Korea Times, even reckon 5G will networks be capable of transmitting data at up to 20Gbps. To put that in context while LTE-A can theoretically achieve speeds of around 300Mbps you’re not likely to get more than around 42Mbps in reality and standard 4G has real world speeds of just around 14Mbps.

Nokia’s thoughts are similarly ambitious, with the company suggesting that you’ll be able to stream 8K video in 3D over 5G.

Some estimates are more conservative though, but even the most conservative put it at several dozen times faster than 4G.

Already 5G trials are taking place, with Verizon in the US for example showing that its technology can achieve download speeds of 30-50 times faster than 4G. That would enable you to download a full movie in around 15 seconds, versus around 6 minutes on 4G.

The 5G Innovation Centre has achieved even higher speeds in test environments of around 1 terabit per second (1Tbps). That’s roughly 65,000 times faster than typical 4G speeds and would enable you to download a file around 100 times larger than a full movie in just 3 seconds.

However, that’s unlikely to be replicated in the real world. Indeed, in an actual-use environment (rather than a specially built test site), DOCOMO has recorded speeds in excess of 2Gbps, which is still extremely impressive. Closer to home EE plans to begin trialling 5G speeds of 1Gbps in 2016.

OOfcom for its part sees 5G as achieving real world speeds of between 10 and 50Gbps, which is insanely fast whichever end of the scale it ends up at. In short it’s clear that it will leave 4G in its dust.

Upload speeds

Estimates of upload speeds are so far vaguer than those for 5G download speeds, but the consensus is that you’ll be able to upload data at many gigabits per second, possibly up to 10Gbps.

The exact upload speed will of course be tied to the download speed though and whatever download speed is offered uploads will be slower, likely coming in at no more than half the download speed.

Latency

Latency is how long it takes the network to respond to a request, which could be you trying to play a song or video or load a website for example. It has to respond before it even starts loading, which can lead to minor but perceptible lag and is especially problematic for online games, as each input has a new response time.

Over 3G those response times are typically around 120 milliseconds and on 4G they’re less than half that at between roughly 15 and 60 milliseconds. The theory is that on 5G response times will drop to just 1 millisecond, which will be completely imperceptible.

That will help with all the things we use data for now, but more than that it’s necessary for new mobile data uses, such as self-driving cars, which need to respond to inputs and changes in situation immediately.

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