For about a year there has been a lot of talk about 5G, the new generation mobile networks that will gradually replace the current 4G, offering faster Internet connections and shorter waiting times, not only for browsing via smartphones and tablets. Instruments and devices are already available and in many countries, the first experiments are underway, which will lead to the diffusion of the new technology between this and next year. In the United States from the second half of 2019, the first 5G networks should be active, while for Italy it will be necessary to wait until 2020 when the networks previously experimented privately by the operators in some pilot cities will be opened.
What is 5G?
With the term 5G, the common rules are defined that telephone operators, manufacturers of transmission systems and those of smartphones and other devices are giving themselves and will have to respect to offer connections faster than the current ones. 5G stands for “fifth generation” and is a very general term, which describes different technologies and that vary according to the countries and radio frequencies available to be used. Something similar happened a decade ago, when the first experiments of 4G began, a system that is now widely used in large cities and in most of the rural areas (in Italy not everywhere, also because of the complexity of the territory). At the time the producers agreed to use common standards, although with some differences according to the countries: something similar happened now with the 5G.
How can I use the 5G?
At the moment no one who is not involved in a 5G experimentation can access the new system. When it will be freely accessible, you will have to equip yourself with smartphones, tablets and other new generation devices, built to be compatible with the 5G signal. Some products with these characteristics will be introduced as early as this year, but the biggest producers will be waiting to be sure that the standards are established, to have more compatible products. Apple, for example, should not introduce an iPhone with 5G before the second half of 2020, unless there are program changes.
How Fast is 5G?
The new 5G networks will allow you to browse and download data much faster than the current 4G. It is estimated that at full capacity the system will be able to exceed 10 gigabits per second, although it is likely that initially, the average speed will be around 1.5 gigabits. However, it is a significant improvement, considering that a 4G network is on average 20 times slower. A movie can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet in a matter of seconds, for example.
OK, What else?
The speed in downloading a large amount of data is not the only advantage of 5G. The system has different solutions from the 4G studied to reduce as much as possible the “latency”, ie the time between when we send a command and we receive an answer, for example while we are doing an online search. With 4G the latency varies a lot, usually oscillating between 50 and 100 milliseconds; the 5G should reduce the wait a few milliseconds, making it even faster to browse or use applications that need to periodically connect to the Internet in order to work.
Greater download capacity and lower latency should bring benefits in many other fields, beyond those of smartphones and tablets. You can more easily use drones, sending commands quickly and getting almost instantaneous reactions in the flight order, or you can use more compact virtual reality helmets, connected directly to your smartphone. Manufacturers of 5G systems and mobile operators also argue that there may be benefits in many areas, such as medicine, to more easily transmit patient data, even in difficult conditions that are distant from fixed Internet access points.
But in Italy, Where are We?
In 2017 the Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) has launched a procedure to assign three areas in which to test the 5G in Italy: Milan with its metropolitan city (61 municipalities), Prato and L’Aquila, Bari and Matera. On the basis of the offers received by the operators, MISE assigned Milan to Vodafone, Prato and L’Aquila to Wind Tre / Open Fiber and Bari and Matera to TIM / Fastweb / Huawei. Each initiative has provided the investment of several tens of millions of euros to install the new repeaters, update the telecommunications systems in the area and test them.
In the meantime, in the summer of 2018, the frequency auction was started, to assign licenses to mobile operators. Iliad, TIM and Vodafone have obtained all three of the most important frequencies, with offers respectively from 2.07, 2.441 and 1.192 billion. Wind Tre obtained two with an offer of 516 million euros, while Fastweb one with an offer of 32.6 million euros. In the end, for the State, the auction yielded 6.6 billion euros. The frequencies in the 700 MHz band, the most important to increase the coverage, will instead be available only from 2022 when the broadcasters have left them for the new purposes of data transmission.
Starting in 2020, however, the first services in Milan, Prato, L’Aquila, Matera and Bari should be activated, in addition to Rome and Turin, where other experiments had already started. However, it is not yet clear when these 5G networks can be used by individual citizens: the plans provide for a start with some institutional partners, who will be able, for example, to exploit the new network for environmental control, public safety and management of transport information. The full diffusion on the national territory will probably coincide with the activation of the 700 MHz networks starting from 2022.