Could 5G replace your home broadband?

Written by:
Date Posted:
8 July 2020
Category:
Tech News

The future of UK broadband

Future of 5G
5G seemed set to unite the world, but instead is tearing the telecoms industry apart. Between discussions with security experts over technical standards and the UK government deciding whether they will ban the use of Huawei’s kit, the rollout of 5G has not been as smooth as expected.

Facing fierce opposition from counter groups and local councils, mobile networks are still unable to offer 5G connectivity in every city across the UK. On top of that, most handsets still don’t support 5G, so many people can’t take advantage of the new super-speedy internet just yet.

Whilst most of the attention has focused on what 5G can do for our mobile phone connectivity, it could also offer new options for home internet services. Could this technology be the future of home broadband?

Connectivity issues
Even with the introduction of 5G broadband, we aren’t expecting internet users to say goodbye to fibre just yet. But millions of people in developed countries still don’t have access to super fast broadband, despite huge amounts of effort and money being spent on updating cable networks to try and connect remote communities. 

With 5G technology now offering super fast connections, it has the potential to provide a reliable and easily accessible alternative for users in ‘dead spot’ WiFi locations. 5G broadband can be quite a misleading term because it gives the impression of switching to a completely wireless solution, but in reality, 5G will replace the ‘last mile’ physical connection with a wireless 5G network connection instead.

The ‘last mile’
The ‘last mile’ is the infrastructure and cables that make up the last section of the UK’s broadband network – the part that runs from cabinet exchanges in the street into homes and businesses.The ‘last mile’ of a standard broadband connection can be difficult and costly to install, which is why several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) continue to use copper connections.

This type of wiring often causes bottlenecks in performance and slows the service down significantly from street to home. Most 5G networks will use the same kind of physical fibre connections as standard fixed broadband, but will replace the copper connections with a wireless 5G connection.

Greater speeds
5G technology provides greater speed, lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect to several devices at once. This will support the growing trend in use of smart devices and sensors in the home, such as heating and lighting, as well as providing increased connectivity for downloading and streaming services.

5G networks also support ultra high-speed data at rates of up to 10 Gbps and can facilitate up to a million devices per square kilometre. To illustrate the potential speed of 5G, a typical high-definition film could be downloaded in under 40 seconds, as opposed to more than seven minutes using 4G.

Home internet
Home internet issues were a major grievance for UK residents during lockdown. Many ISPs struggled to cope with the increase in usage, experiencing frequent outages and performance issues in many parts of the country. Many advocates have suggested that 5G broadband could now see a gold rush, offering higher speeds and connectivity as internet usage around the world increases. 

Although 5G supports up to 10 Gbps, its data rate can be as low as 200 Mbps. This would support typical internet browsing, but not to stream from multiple devices or play online games. With the current technology, users have also rarely seen upload speeds over 100 Mbps, despite download speeds being markedly improved. 

The downsides
5G networks do still seem to be unpredictable because their signals can be affected by several factors, including interference from other devices and the distance from the 5G transmitter. Trees, buildings, walls and other obstacles are also said to disrupt, block or absorb the high-frequency signal. 

Three and EE are both planning to offer 5G broadband in selected locations around the UK. The 5G router will have no need for a phone line connection or engineer visit to set it up, but is a ‘plug and play’ modem, which picks up the 5G signal to operate. 5G broadband does have data limits though, with most providers offering a limit of 1TB a month, which may not be suited to multiple occupancy households.

Changing needs
One of the biggest challenges in replacing home broadband with 5G would be putting the infrastructure in place. The UK’s super fast network (24 Mbps or higher) reaches over 96% of the UK, whereas 5G is not currently available in all towns and cities. 5G technology could have this capacity in the future, but it is unlikely that it will ever replace traditional broadband entirely.

5G technology has been designed to accommodate the changing needs of connectivity demands and offers great connectivity opportunities for remote locations, but it is still in its development stages. The speeds can be unpredictable and the technology can be affected by interference from everyday objects.

So perhaps the future is one that combines fibre broadband with 5G services?  If one thing is certain, it is that internet users won’t be cutting the cable to fibre broadband just yet.

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