Currently, the fastest way for most people to access data via the internet at home is with cable or fibre broadband. The most immediate types of domestic cable broadband can achieve download speeds of several hundred megabits per second.

Still, the coverage for coaxial cable broadband in most developed countries is limited to denser urban areas. For a large number of homes, fibre optic broadband is the best you can expect, and this is limited to somewhere around 100 megabits per second.

The power of 5G

This is where the power of 5G comes in. This new technology has a theoretical download rate of up to 10 gigabits per second.

That’s enough to download a typical 4k HD movie in around 40 seconds – something that would take several minutes with fibre optic broadband.

There are limits to the potential capacity of 5G as a replacement for mobile broadband, however.

The practical data rate for cellular networks is much lower than those lofty theoretical maximums once you factor in congestion on the masts, or your distance from a receiver.

Meaning that a realistic download speed of 100-200 megabits per second is more likely – which is not all that much faster than the best fibre optic broadband speeds.

Is it too costly?

Price could also be an issue. Many 5G providers will want you to believe that 5G will deliver great-value high-speed internet. The problem being the radio signals cannot reach more than a few hundred metres outdoors.

So carriers must build more cell masts – each of which has a fibre connection. The sheer number of these that are required means a model delivering fibre to a whole block could be almost as costly as snaking it out to individual homes.

The shorter range of signals from 5G masts also makes blanket coverage outside of dense urban areas more problematic. At present, the roll-out of 5G coverage is limited to specific regions of major global cities.

There’s no doubt that 5G has the potential to deliver incredible downloads speeds to many millions of people. Whether it can do so universally, or cost-effectively, is an altogether separate question.

Why sewers could be a solution to high expense infrastructure costs

The UK sewer’s system is one of the most advanced and efficient across the entire globe. In November 2019, the UK was ranked second in the world for its water and sewerage services, coming in behind only Germany.

Some 73 per cent of respondents to the survey carried out on behalf of GIIA commented that they were ‘happy’ with the services in the UK, which is hugely significant when compared to the global average of 55 per cent.

A set of new standards

SSE Enterprise Telecoms, one of the UK’s leading connectivity providers, has announced that it is working with several major water utility operators to develop a ‘set of standards’ to enable fibreoptic cabling within sewage systems without causing disruption.

Paul Clark, SSE Senior Director for Energy and Utilities, said: “To advance the UK’s digital ambitions and drive forward the smart cities of the future, we are rolling out a number of large infrastructure projects to improve nationwide connectivity.

“We understand that it’s a critical requirement to keep disruption to a minimum when working on such projects. So we are maximising the use of existing assets, including the sewer network to lay fibre.”

As part of the project, SSE has created an independently chaired Technical User Group (TUG) that will bring together five water companies to find potential solutions. And, ultimately, enhance the country’s sewer systems.

The TUG will also look at the viability of using sewer systems to help in the roll-out of 5G.

Given that the UK already has approximately 624,000 kilometres of sewers, it would make sense to install cables within an already existing infrastructure, massively speeding up the 5G roll-out process.

Myths, and falsehoods surrounding 5G

Since the launch of 5G, technology companies have been rolling out 5G-ready devices. Yet, it has attracted myths and stories. How can we sort fact from fiction?

“5G causes cancer”

5G can not cause cancer because the radio waves it uses are non-ionising, unlike ultraviolet rays given off by the sun, which can lead to cancers.

The concern that 5G causes cancer arose from the network’s use of a higher frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum than previous mobile networks.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classified all radiofrequency radiation as “possibly carcinogenic”, meaning 5G falls into the same category as eating pickled vegetables.

“5G causes coronavirus”

Similarly, this latest rumour arose from the network’s use of the radio spectrum. Ionisation does not correlate with coronavirus and cannot cause infection.

Following a survey across 22 5G sites in 10 UK cities during 2020, Ofcom released a statement, stating: ‘There is no scientific basis or credible evidence for these claims’.

There is no reliable evidence linking COVID-19 to the 5G network.

“5G can be used to spy on people”

The UK recently decided to remove all 5G equipment produced by Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks by 2023.

While it is true that 5G is of interest to national security and law enforcement, why would foreign governments have reason to want to waste resources to spy on everyday people.

Most people’s phones and tablets are encrypted and protected from security threats. If a government wants to spy on its people, then it’s more than likely already happening through mass surveillance.

Whos leading the way in 5G infrastructure?

Thailand is one of the countries edging closer to a roll-out of 5G. It has now formed a national committee – the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) – to oversee the transition.

Set up to overcome obstacles created by the recall of spectrum which is unused, as well as to encourage co-operation and dialogue between agencies working on 5G development.

Moving Forward

Thailands government is acting as a catalyst for Thai telecom companies to move forward with 5G as the technology can be vital to medical facilities and doctors.

Working side by side with Huawei, the Thai government has already begun installing 5G technology and AI systems in hospitals to help with specific processes, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The NBTC has raised a substantial amount of over £2 billion from spectrum auctions, with the major telecom companies snapping up the 49 licences available.

It’s expected that some of the mobile operators who have purchased licences will continue using them for 4G until they are ready to roll out 5G.

Some of the first locations to welcome 5G include the northern city of Chiang Mai and the beach cities of Pattaya and Phuket.

The developments will make Thailand one of the first countries in South East Asia to press ahead with the new technology.

What next after 5G? 6G?

5G is barely up and running, but what comes after 5G?

5G is still non-existent in many locations. Despite this, researchers are already looking to develop what will come next after 5G. At the moment, this technology lacks an official name. Therefore researchers have named it 6G for simplicity purposes.

6G promises to be up to 100 times faster than the current 5G. However, researchers are still working out how exactly these connections will happen.

11 Gigabits per second

A team from Osaka University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a new chip which could be the basis for 6G. With this chip, the researchers were able to transmit data at a superfast rate of 11 gigabits a second, beating 5G’s top speed of 10 gigabits per second.

This new speed would be fast enough to stream a 4K high-definition video in real-time. The team believe that this is only the start, and the technology has room to develop much further.

The new 6G chip will top the 5G speeds significantly. It could transmit waves at a trillion cycles a second, which is over three times the frequency of 5G.

But this is only the start for 6G. Experts say that 6G networks could run at 8,000 gigabits per second. They will also have higher bandwidth and lower latency than 5G.

New material

The researchers used a new material, photonic topological insulators, to transmit terahertz waves. This material allows light to be redirected around corners, which doesn’t disturb its flow. The new chip is made entirely of silicon and contains rows of triangle-shaped holes.

Studies have shown that this chip can transmit terahertz waves without errors.

6G could make a huge difference in several industries. As well as self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, 6G could also be used in data centres and long-range communications.

But let’s get 5G up and running first…

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Image by Ria Sopala from Pixabay