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The Introduction of 5G Technology to the UK

5G stands for 5th generation mobile network, where each of the newly released generations builds on its predecessor. 5G builds on 4G by being significantly faster, has higher capacity (meaning more devices in the same area can be connected to the internet at the same time) and uses spectrum more efficiently. This article will briefly cover the less than smooth beginnings of the 5G roll out in the UK and will also discuss the benefits and potential risk involved.

In order to deploy 5G, 5G radio spectrum must be allocated. There is only a limited amount of spectrum available and so it needs to be managed carefully. Spectrum is allocated by the government via auction, with different telecommunication companies all bidding for the spectrum. In January 2021, after 97 rounds of bidding, a U.S 5G spectrum auction generated a record $81 billion.

Bidding for spectrum is a very strategic process for companies. Not bidding enough means that a company won’t have any spectrum, meaning poor network coverage and limited 5G customers. Meanwhile, bidding too high means that the bid is greater than the intrinsic value of the spectrum and ownership isn’t profitable – known as the winner’s curse. Many consider that the real winners of these auctions aren’t the highest bidding telecom companies, but rather the governments which auction them off.

5G technology is already being tested and rolled out all over the UK, with 5G masts beginning to be installed across the country. 5G is being hailed as a key component of industry 4.0, i.e., the fourth industrial revolution. According to a Statista survey, as of March 2020, only 5% of the UK population were not using 4G technology. If this widespread popularity of 4G is any indicator of the potential success of 5G, then we could be seeing drastic reforms in many industries.

5G has been applied to various industries so far; transport networks (such as parking, traffic management etc.), farming and finance etc. However, many believe that one of the main beneficiaries will be the medical and healthcare industry. One of the reasons for this is that large MRI files, which often take days to be transmitted, processed and assessed, with 5G, could be completed in a matter of hours or potentially even minutes. With diseases that can be fatal in a short space of time, such as aggressive cancer, saving these few days due to more efficient technology could be the difference between life and death for some patients.

Although 5G has the potential to significantly benefit the population, the 5G revolution has not been met without some resistance. One example is that online conspiracy theorists have been spreading misleading rumours through social media that 5G masts can suck oxygen out of your lungs and make you more susceptible to SARS-COV-2. This has led fanatics to burn down the masts: one lone week in April saw three masts being set alight. One of these masts was not too far away from the University of Birmingham, with the tower being located in the Sparkhill area.

Further resistance occurred after security concerns with the Chinese government were raised last year, resulting in the UK ordering the removal of all Huawei 5G technology from the British telecom grid. This has left the nation with only a duopoly of 5G suppliers; Nokia and Ericsson. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee reported that having only two 5G technology vendors could in itself pose a risk to “national resilience and security”, as well as larger costs for operators (such as Vodafone, Three, EE, etc.) due to the increased monopoly power the two companies hold.

In conclusion, although there is much uncertainty in 5G, the fast-paced advancements and limitless potential are likely to provide exciting and frequent updates in a technological, economic and political sense. It will be thrilling to see what the future holds for 5G, and how long it takes until a 6G is developed.

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