5G arrives and here's what that means for home and business

Several 5G-capable smartphones were announced at MWC, including the LG V50 ThinQ.

Foldable phones may have grabbed the headlines at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, but another strongly featured technology – 5G connectivity – is likely to have a bigger impact on our lives and businesses.

Foldable smartphones may have grabbed the headlines at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, but another strongly featured technology – 5G connectivity – is likely to have a bigger impact on our lives and businesses.

Every year the MWC gives us a preview of what we can expect from the mobile industry over the following 12 months, but MWC 2019 could well be the most important preview since the launch of the iPhone in 2007.

With smartphones having transformed how we live and work, 5G is shaping up as the next revolutionary mobile technology. Finally, after years of pre-emptive hype, 2019 looks set to be the year that 5G arrives.

Why is 5G so important?

5G’s headline benefit is its performance, with theoretical download speeds of up to 20 billion bits per second (Gbps). We’re unlikely to see real-life speeds anywhere near that high in the near term, but Optus is confident enough to guarantee 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for its initial 5G service this year. That’s on par with, or better than all but the fastest NBN services.

5G also has much better latency than 4G. This makes 5G more suitable for applications where any lag in network connectivity can significantly affect how well those applications run.

In addition, 5G will allow many more devices to connect to the network simultaneously – a huge benefit, as increasing numbers of smartphones, Internet of Things and other devices are connecting to mobile networks every year.

Together, these benefits will make 5G much better than 4G at video streaming, online games and numerous other applications. Cloud business software will become more responsive and reliable on mobile devices, while emerging applications such as connected machinery, driverless cars and remote healthcare will become more feasible.

5G could even become “a viable substitute for fixed broadband”, according to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims.

Some industry pundits agree. Others don’t. Much will depend on factors like 5G pricing and monthly data allowances – fixed-line deals are still far more generous than mobile plans. With 5G in its infancy and the NBN rollout in its final stages, fixed-line broadband will be more widely available for some time.

Still, 5G shows a lot of promise and if it’s disruptive to the NBN, that could result in better and faster broadband services all round.

5G smartphones arriving

The Huawei Mate X.

Several 5G-capable smartphones were announced at MWC, including the Huawei Mate X, LG V50 ThinQ, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Xiaomi Mi MIX 3, ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G and an unspecified Oppo model – all slated for release this year.

That doesn’t mean all will be available in Australia soon, but the Galaxy S10 5G at least is a certainty. Telstra is offering those who buy the new Galaxy S10+ on a plan a free upgrade to the 5G handset when it’s released “in the first half of this year”.

As you’d expect, the Galaxy S10 handsets offer significant improvements over the S9 models, with better displayers, faster processors, longer battery life and improved cameras.

The Samsung Galaxy S10.

5G networks

The biggest upgrade, however, will be to the 5G handset download speeds when connected to the new networks. 

Telstra says it has switched on 5G at more than 200 mobile sites in “all major Australian cities”, ready for the arrival of the first 5G smartphones.

Optus is due to start offering 5G in selected Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Adelaide suburbs in mid-2019. Initially, its 5G network will be available as a home broadband service, rather than a mobile service.

Vodafone is further behind, although realistically we’re not likely to see broadly available 5G coverage on any network this year. However, all three providers have been working on 5G for some time, and given the intense competition between them, we can expect far greater availability next year.

Foldable smartphones

Foldable smartphones (including the now-delayed Samsung Fold) were the other talk of MWC 2019, with companies taking very different approaches to the design. Huawei Mate X’s 8-inch screen wraps around the outside of the unit. When closed, the screen then splits into a 6.6-inch front display and a 6.38-inch back display. The handset switches intelligently between phone and tablet mode when folded and unfolded. You can use either the front or back screen as a phone, depending on how you hold it. Time will tell about the durability of the outside screen.

The Mate X has high-end specs and is likely to be very expensive when it hits the Australian market shortly.

Meanwhile, LG is taking a different approach to dual screens with its V50 ThinQ. It’s essentially a regular 6.4-inch phone with a folio case featuring a 6.2-inch screen on the inside. The idea is to use the second screen in a complementary way for a keyboard or second app. While still a premium handset, the V50 ThinQ is likely to be much cheaper than foldable phones.

Read next: Best trends in tech from CES 2019

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