While Wifi6 picks up momentum, 5G marks a paradigm shift, not merely a generational one. Here are one expert’s views.

In October, the Singapore government announced its goal of 5G network coverage across at least half the country by end-2022. It is cause for excitement because unlike the comparatively gradual progressions from 2G to 3G to 4G, the switch to 5G is monumental. It is going to change everything.

Where previous generations presented evolutionary improvements, 5G revolutionizes the way information is transmitted wirelessly. This drastic transformation necessitates the installation of entirely new infrastructure, calling for a significant investment of time and resources.

Operating on super-high frequencies, 5G requires the replacement (or initially, augmentation) of old 4G masts that broadcast in all directions and are placed far apart, with numerous smaller, more energy-efficient 5G antennae that beam directly to your device. As the waves sent by these new 5G antennae are more easily deflected by physical objects, a larger number of them will be required to ensure proper coverage, but the antennae need only be small and thus, can be easily concealed within the environment.

When this infrastructure is in place, users will enjoy data transfer speeds eclipsing those we presently experience with 4G: from 10 to 100 times faster! For example, a movie that took five minutes to download on 4G will take just a few seconds on 5G, and crisp high-definition television will be viewable on the go. A believable mobile virtual reality experience, requiring 5GB per second of bandwidth, will be achievable. For gamers, 5G will empower cloud gaming, facilitating the lag-free enjoyment of computing-intensive games on even relatively simple devices, as the heavy processing will be handled in the cloud.

Once 5G infrastructure is properly deployed and fully functioning, the technology promises to free users from the need to use any wire or cable to deliver content to not only mobile devices but also, all fixed home television and sound systems or desktop computers. Consumers may initially find these leisure-focused aspects of 5G the most attention-worthy; however, entertainment is just one area where 5G will have enormous impact.

Today, every so-called ‘smart device’ needs to be equipped with computing power on a par with that of a smartphone. With 5G, however, the various elements of a smart home, office or factory will require less sophistication—their higher functions controlled remotely by a more powerful ‘master’ controller. 5G will facilitate the effective functioning of the internet of things (IoT)—where interconnected 5G-enabled machines communicate with one another to better function in unison—which is presently hindered by the difficulty of numerous machines accessing 4G’s limited bandwidth at once.

On a larger scale, 5G will power the transformation of metropolitan centres into smart cities. Interconnected controls and sensors in urban areas will analyze conditions to more efficiently provide services, utilize resources and respond to or anticipate crises.

The incredible speeds at which 5G operates will allow not only the lightning-quick transfer of information across vast distances, but also the transmission of skills, delivering both know-how and the practical performance of tasks where and when they are needed. For instance, using 5G networks, an operator in New York could pilot an unmanned aerial vehicle in New Delhi, controlling the drone without risk of potentially dangerous delays in reaction time.

A drastic reduction in what is called ‘latency’ — the delay before a transfer of data begins, following a command for its transfer—is the key to 5G’s empowerment of autonomous vehicles. With 5G, instant vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication—effected in a millisecond, even when not within line-of-sight—will allow autonomous cars to more safely navigate around one another.

Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication will integrate cars into the smart city’s IoT network, ‘talking’ with public infrastructure such as toll roads, pedestrian crossings, parking garages and meters, reacting to real-time weather and traffic updates.

Even before the advent of autonomous motoring, commuters will benefit from the increased precision and capabilities 5G brings in terms of navigation. A larger, more powerful network of antennae and faster response times will—in unison with advanced satellite services and mapping—bring greater accuracy in location awareness. Literally and figuratively, 5G is helping chart an exciting new journey forward.