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Is it an either or: 5G or wireless?

Written by Sofia Gunnarsson  —  on 3rd November 2018.

Much has been said about 5Gs ability to provide an equivalent service to Wi-Fi, but is this really going to be the case?

The £70m dedicated 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey is heralding 5G as the future of wireless, and expects it to be up and running by 2020. Meanwhile, part of the reason the European Commission blocked the merger of O2 and Three was that it felt its network sharing agreements would hamper 5G’s roll-out in Britain. It looks like a lot of expectation is being placed on 5G’s shoulders. What is more likely is that as 5G becomes a reality, amenity Wi-Fi will also continue to advance, making both networks valuable to mobile users , both from an availability perspective, and from a cost one.

A good example of the scale of the challenge is the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project that was meant to bring cellular coverage to remote, underserved, locations. It’s no secret that it is difficult to get coverage into these areas. There were meant to be 600 new masts to address ‘not-spots’ but in the two years since the project started there have only been 16 erected.

In February, Ed Vaizy admitted the project was a failure.

“We had not anticipated just how difficult some of the planning issues are, particularly when we were dragging four operators with us, metaphorically kicking and screaming. Although we were paying for the mast, we were asking them to meet the operating costs going forward, which includes the land rental as well as the transmission costs for what is, by definition, an uneconomic area,” said Vaizey.

Even now there are many areas of the country, and even some parts of London, that aren’t able to access the 4G network, so we need to be realistic in what is and isn’t possible with 5G. This means continued investment in wireless networks, connected up to the fibre backbone and continued pressure on the government and suppliers to build networks in hard to reach areas. Even with 5G just around the corner this shouldn’t be forgotten.

There are several 5G trials starting to take place, Ericsson and TeliaSonera are working together, as are Verizon and Samsung. However,it is expected that wide scale deployments of 5G will not take place before 2020 and even then will be limited to high density and urban areas only.

In reality, the newest 802.11ac WiFi standard, delivering 1.3 Gb/s throughput, is likely to remain the technology of choice for public WiFi in remote or rural locations or where cost-conscious users want an uncapped data limit.

Both industries are needed to spur each other on and to ensure that those that want to be connected to the Internet, can be, no matter where they are.

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