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What is 5G? And just how fast is it?

2G, 3G, 4G, now 5G? Here’s what you need to know about the newest generation of wireless technology.

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One of the most anticipated launches in the telecommunications industry saw 5G become live near the end of 2019, making New Zealand the 22nd country in the world to introduce the new technology. But with the rollout only in its initial stages and only a select amount of people able to access it, there is still some confusion about what 5G actually is and what it promises for the future of the internet.

5G can be utilised for mobile and wireless fixed broadband services, and while the basic technology is the same as 4G and 3G, it is able to carry a lot more data. This means that it can change the way we live through more reliable connections, super-fast downloading, minimal latency and the potential to do more with our internet than we could before.

Which providers offer 5G?

Currently, only two New Zealand providers offer 5G:

  • Vodafone. Vodafone provides 5G for mobile. At the time of writing, it is live in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, but Vodafone’s goal is to have coverage for 90% of New Zealanders within 5 years. Until 30 June 2020, you can access 5G for no extra charge on eligible plans as long as you have a 5G capable device.
  • Spark. Spark offers 5G wireless broadband to a few places in the South Island with plans starting from $75 a month. The beginning of Spark’s 5G rollout has included selected locations in Alexandra, Westport, Twizel, Tekapo, Hokitika and Clyde and Spark will announce the next lot of towns in March 2020.

Unfortunately at the moment, you are limited with your choice of provider. If you want 5G mobile you have to go with Vodafone, and if you want home broadband then you’ll need to choose Spark – of course, as long as you are in the coverage areas. Things are likely to change though over the next couple of years, with other telecommunication companies getting onto the 5G train as well. Vodafone does expect to launch its fixed wireless broadband in 2020 so that will be one to watch out for.

What’s so great about 5G?

Whether you are utilising 5G on your mobile on a home laptop, 5G has a number of key benefits:

Speed

5G is a big step up from 4G when it comes to speed, and this most apparent when downloading, streaming, gaming and browsing web pages. While Spark states that 5G has the potential to download up to 100 times faster than possible on 4G, we understand that its trial customers experienced speeds of around 10 or 20 times faster during the initial rollout stage.

Vodafone has advised that its 5G launch speeds were around 150-200Mbps for downloading, which is faster than standard fibre and means it takes about 3 minutes to download a 5GB movie. However, Vodafone does expect that speeds will reach 10 times faster than 4G once it builds out the 5G network. Test your internet speed.

Low latency and higher quality

Latency refers to how long data takes to get from one point to another. 5G has a network latency of lower than 20 milliseconds, which means that that there is less lag, a more seamless experience and improvement to all online activities. Gamers will particularly appreciate this, as online gaming becomes more fluid with almost real-time delivery of commands to give the upper edge in competitions.

Better productivity

Without having to wait for files to open or pages to load, your business productivity can remain high throughout the day. And if you’re relaxing at home streaming your favourite media, you can watch shows and movies straight away without needing to make a cup of tea while you wait for buffering.

An alternative to fibre

If you don’t have access to fibre, you may be able to get 5G wireless fixed broadband and experience similar speeds and reliability.

Future possibilities

There has been a lot of predictions about what 5G will allow us to do, and although some may seem like a long way off yet, a few ideas have already been carried out. Overseas, Vodafone conducted the first 5G live holographic call and allowed a blind skier to conquer the slopes via acoustic signals.

Other things that 5G may be capable of doing in the future including giving you the ability to see how new furniture will look in your home using augmented reality, trying on clothes at home using virtual reality, scanning products while in-store to see online reviews, and powering driverless cars. If you own a business, you could use drones to monitor health and safety across a site, or even control a robotic crane from the comfort of your office.

What to be aware of

  • Limited coverage so far. Even though 5G is live in your city or town, it may not be at your place. For example, looking a Vodafone’s coverage map for Auckland, it’s available in suburbs dotted around the city but there are large gaps. You can get it in Newmarket, parts of Parnell and Epsom, but not in Remuera at this stage. You can check using the Vodafone network coverage map or the Spark 5G address checker to find out if 5G is good to go at your home or business.
  • Devices. To access 5G on our mobile you will need a 5G capable phone. There are currently only a limited amount of 5G Samsung models available in New Zealand and this is an extra cost to consider if you’ve recently bought a new 4G phone. More phones are set to be released in 2020 which should hopefully include Apple and other Android brands.
  • More expensive. As it only just launched at the end of 2019, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what the costs of 5G are going to be compared to 4G plans. Vodafone is not charging for 5G until June 2020 for customers with eligible 4G mobile plans, and there isn’t an indication of what plans will cost after that. Spark only has one 5G wireless option that sits under the tiered Unplan plan and this works out at $10 more a month than fibre and copper connections. We can presume that 5G is going to be more expensive than 4G across both mobile and wireless broadband, which is understandable due to being a new technology.
  • More data usage. You will potentially use more data while on 5G due to its speed, so you should consider having an unlimited plan instead of worrying about reaching your data limit each month.
  • Not necessary for everyone. While 5G promises to change the way we live and improve business operations and services, this might not necessarily matter much to you. Many of us have been doing pretty well with what 4G provides, so unless you are a heavy gamer, frequent Netflix streamer or run your business through the internet, you may be fine without it. 4G and 5G will coexist together, just like 3G and 4G do now, so you are not going to be left behind.
  • Anti-5G protests. You may have caught some news about anti-5G activists protesting the rollout due to health and environment safety. However, the Ministry of Health states that there is nothing different about 5G to other radio frequency signals so it is not deemed to be dangerous in the interest of public health.

5G summary

While 5G certainly has many benefits for streamers or gamers, heavy internet users and businesses, this technology is still getting off the ground. In a couple of years, we expect that there will be more New Zealanders able to use 5G, but for now many will only be able to experience speedy internet with ultra-fast broadband where available.

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