The growth of 5G: The rise of next generation connectivity

By now, the commercial roll-out of 5G is well underway. Indeed, if you’re lucky, you might already have purchased a 5G compatible smartphone and be using the super-fast network already. However, there’s more to the growth of 5G than mobile subscribers alone, with new research showing that 5G is already the fastest growing mobile technology in history due to its numerous use cases. With businesses, smart cities, and autonomous vehicles, relying on the technology for their progression, 5G uptake is rapidly accelerating.

Yet, to understand how the technology has gotten to this point, it is important to learn more about its history and development. Below, we take a look at the evolution of this generation of connectivity.


The history of 5G

The first research into 5G officially began in early 2012, with ITU-R embarking on a programme to develop a stage for 5G research activities that were emerging around the world. The programme was named “IMT for 2020 and beyond” – with IMT standing for International Mobile Telecommunications. The aim of ITU-R was to come together with top industry partners to understand what the key elements of 5G were going to be and how the network would evolve to be usable by 2020.

With the research from ITU-R published a year later, countries including Japan and Korea started to work on 5G requirements and companies like Samsung, Huawei and Ericsson began their own prototype development.

Samsung, for example, created a taskforce of around 100 employees from its telecom and semiconductor arms to begin work on 5G. Huawei announced it would be spending over $600 million into research and development in 5G-enabling solutions and Ericsson began developing advanced antenna technologies with wider bandwidths, higher frequencies and shorter transmission time intervals.

By 2014, the first 5G experimental trials were underway, with NTT Docomo, in collaboration with individual hardware vendors from around the world, successfully achieving ultra-high-speed transmission of data using the high-frequency 15GHz spectrum band.

These 5G trials continued throughout the next few years, gradually improving in scale and bandwidth in order to prove their readiness for commercial use. One such trial with NTT Docomo and Huawei allowed for data to be transferred about 40 times faster than the current 4G standard at the time.

After many successful trial attempts with the technology, South Korean SK Telecom decided to demo 5G in 2018 at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. During the 5G demonstration, visitors were able to experience the network while riding a bus between event venues in Gangneung’s main area. In addition, while wearing virtual-reality glasses, they could “visit” almost instantaneously, and in 3D, a site in Oulu, Finland, via a 5G intercontinental connection developed by the project teams. Lastly, 5G was used to provide a sync view of the events during the bobsled runs, transmitting live, real-time footage from the athletes’ points of view.

On December 1, 2018, marking a major global milestone, South Korea became the first country to offer 5G – later officially commercially launching its fifth-generation service in April 2019. This news came two months after Samsung unveiled the world’s globally available 5G smartphone, the Galaxy S10 and the foldable Galaxy Fold. The launch of 5G networks in South Korea was then subsequently followed by countries including the UK, US and Japan in the following months.

As of November 2020, 146 mobile operators had launched commercial 5G services and 59 countries across all continents have commercial 5G offers. By the end of  January 2021, 588 5G devices have been announced, from which 62% are already commercially available.

Are you interested in 5G? Let us know if you’ve got your hands on a 5G compatible device in the comments section.

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