Ten years after the launch of the first commercial 4G mobile networks, the next revolution in mobile communications is just around the corner. Across the world, telecommunications companies are gearing up for the rollout of fifth generation (5G) networks. Around 20 operators expect to launch 5G services during 2019, although it will probably be 2020 before the network infrastructure required to support widespread adoption is in place.
Industry players are spending eye-watering sums in the race to make 5G a reality. The U.K. raised £1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) in an auction of radio spectrum for 5G services last year. A bidding war in Italy saw its spectrum sell for €6.5 billion ($7.4 billion) in October. A similar auction in Germany this spring is expected to raise €5 billion ($5.7 billion), provided legal objections by operators can be overcome.
Those numbers are only part of the story, however. Once they have acquired the rights to parts of the radio spectrum, operators need to build the networks to use them. Consultancy Accenture estimates that U.S. operators will spend up to $275 billion over the next seven years to build their 5G networks.
With so much on the line, 5G technology must offer some compelling benefits and speed is the feature that usually receives the most attention. 5G networks will allow devices to download data at more than 1 gigabit per second (1gb/s). That is at least 10 to 100 times faster than today’s 4G services. At demonstrator sites, operators have wowed audiences with displays of bandwidth, simultaneously transmitting a 360-degree virtual reality display and 12 ultra-high-definition video streams over a single network connection, for example.