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When is 5G coming to the UK?

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When is 5G coming to the UK?

A potential launch timescale for the new UK 5G network is around 2019 to 2020 depending on which network you look at.

There aren't any devices currently available to purchase on the market that will use 5G yet, and, to the best of our knowledge, there haven't been any handset announcements yet either.

But, the hype keeps on building as more and more trials are announced by reputable tech companies from around the globe.


What is 5G?

5G is the next step in the evolution of mobile networks. From 2G in the 90s for voice and text messages, to 3G that did everything 2G did but with the addition of transferring data too, then finally on to 4G with enhanced transfer speeds and reliability.

5G promises to integrate new technlogies, but there hasn't been any solid agreement among vendors on what should be included in the final specifications.

However, there are some key aspects of 5G that appear to be common across its variants that do shape its capabilities and limitations.

5G will use small cells

Small cells, unlike traditional phone masts, are small enough to put on lamp posts and roof tops.

They were originally developed to solve the problem of phone signals being unable to penetrate walls to enter indoor areas, or in areas with very dense phone usage.

Small cells don't require much power in comparison to full sized phone towers and perform well in clusters. 

How small cells are used in 5G?

Small cells are available in the following types:

  • Femtocell: the smallest with a 10 metre range.
  • Picocell: will cover areas the size of a stadium.
  • Microcell: has range of up to several hundred metres.

A heterogeneous network (HetNet) can contain a mixture of the small cells above to be able to reconfigure its operation to provide the best possible quality across its network, while remaining flexible enough to meet changing user needs.

How do small cells work?

Small cells work by transmitting data via millimeter waves that operate in frequencies that are high enough to avoid interference.

However, this comes with a drawback as millimeter waves struggle to pass through physical obstacles, such as walls, bushes and even leaves.

Putting a millimeter wave's shortcomings to one side for a moment, it's important to point out that they are very affective with MIMO transmission.

Unlike 4G LTE, a MIMO set-up is able to transmit and recieve signals at the same time by using independent antennas for both transmitting and recieving. 

The major advantage can be seen by the amount of anntenas that a mast could have use simultaneously with Facebook demonstrating a Massive MIMO system with 96-128 anntenas (compared to eight transmitters and four recievers on a 4G LTE cell tower).

This all means that the capacity of a 5G tower is potentially much greater than a 4G LTE tower would ever be capable of acheving. And, we get more and more capability with the more antennas that we add.

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