Without a doubt, 5G is spreading all over the globe. With popular YouTubers like MKBHD reviewing 5G technology, it seems that this next-generation of 4G is the best way to go forward. Can it help in our daily lives? Is it entirely necessary in Singapore? Let’s find out!
What is 5G?
5G technology is the next generation of telecom networks (fifth generation or 5G) that started being rolled out around the end of 2018 and is continuing to expand worldwide.
How about its advantages?
Other than an improvement in speed, this technology is expected to bring about a boom in a massive 5G IoT (Internet of Things) ecosystem where networks can serve the communication needs of billions of connected devices. 5G speed is capped at 10 Gbps, which is 10 to 100 times faster than what you can get with 4G.
However, it’s not just about internet speed. A huge difference between 5G and 4G is its low latency rate, which is the delay between the sending and receiving information. From 200 milliseconds (200 ms) for 4G, it’s down to 1 ms with 5G.
Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton is said to have a reaction time of approximately 200 ms, which is around the same as 4G’s latency. Imagine now that autonomous vehicles could react 200 times faster than that, at 1 ms, all thanks to the low latency rate of 5G.
At 90 km/h, the average reaction distance is about 16 meters before you step on the brakes. With a 1 ms reaction time, the car would only travelled slightly lesser than 3 centimetres. Look at that massive difference!
Another advantage of having low latency would be real time monitoring of patients’ vital signs. The Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has been testing applications that enable real-time monitoring of patients at the hospital’s emergency department.
What this means is that 5G and IoT are a perfect match for each other, and can work hand in hand to enhance existing technology. Let’s now focus on the telecommunications aspect of 5G in Singapore.
How about telcos in Singapore?
SingTel, StarHub and M1 are three well known telecommunication providers (telcos) in Singapore.
Singapore began introducing 5G services in January 2021, and has aims to increase coverage throughout the entire country by the end of 2025. Singtel has one of the two licenses for the new network in Singapore, with StarHub and M1 jointly holding the other.
Do we really need 5G technology in Singapore? Pricing plans for all three telcos on the 5G network cost on average $10-$20 a month more than regular 4G plans from two years ago. To add salt to the wound, telcos have already made their existing 4G plans obsolete, and leave only a base 4G plan to those seeking to re-contract. The mass market in Singapore is already quite comfortable with the current speeds offered by 4G and may not be willing to pay more to upgrade to 5G.
Furthermore, with virtual telco companies like Circles.Life and GoMo offering services at competitive rates, people generally are not willing to pay more per month just to be able to switch to 5G. These providers do not own wireless network infrastructure but have agreements with incumbent players for bulk access to network services at wholesale rates.
This is not an issue native to Singapore. In Japan, NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank are challenged by Rakuten, a fourth telecommunications company that has no infrastructure of their own and is fully leveraging virtualisation and cloud technology for its network equipment.
Any downsides to 5G?
1. Building more cellular towers
One disadvantage of 5G technology is that worldwide implementation of 5G will require many new cellular towers to be built, which could take a long time and require the purchase of new land leases. In land-scarce Singapore, this would cost a lot of money and might not be pleasing to the eye to see many cell towers being built.
Having a higher bandwidth also means that 5G signals take up more space on the radio frequency, which is already largely consumed by 3G and 4G networks. Placing extra stress on the radio spectrum could lead to slow connections or interruptions entirely, and it will take longer to establish new 5G networks in Singapore’s already crowded radio spectrum.
2. Obstructions can affect connectivity
We have seen this before. While 4G was touted to be faster than 3G, it required more cell towers to be built very close to one another. Even though those towers emitted a stronger signal, it covered a smaller area, resulting in a longer period of rollout for 4G than 3G. Yes, 5G would require more cell towers to cover even more areas due to the same reason.
The range of 5G connectivity is not great as the frequency waves can only travel a short distance. What’s worse is that 5G frequency is interrupted by physical obstructions such as trees, towers, walls and buildings. In Singapore’s urban jungle environment, this doesn’t seem too good. Why should one pay $10-$20 more a month to NOT be able to enjoy consistent 5G speeds?
The high-frequency signals will either be blocked, disrupted or absorbed by these obstacles. A solution for this is for telcos to extend existing cell towers to increase the broadcast distance. However, this just brings us back to our first point, affecting the aesthetic of a particular area.
3. High initial costs for rollout
The costs of developing 5G networks or upgrading current cellular infrastructure would be high. This sum will be exacerbated by the continuing maintenance costs needed to maintain high-speed access, and it is likely that consumers will bear the brunt of these hefty bills. This is already evident in the increased cost of 5G pricing plans.
4. Battery Drain on devices
When it comes to 5G-enabled cellular networks, it seems that batteries are not capable of lasting a long time. To allow this enhanced communication, battery technology has to advance to a point where a single charge can power a smartphone for an entire day.
5G-enabled phones would also have a significant battery drain. If you want to use your phone for a full day on a single charge and using 5G, you’ll need better battery technology. Users have also stated that while on 5G, their phones become feel hot to the touch.
5. Upload speeds do not match download speeds
The download speeds are extremely fast, reaching up to 1.9 Gbps in some cases. However, upload speeds rarely exceed 100 Mbps, so they’re not quite as impressive as they seem. However, as compared to current mobile connectivity, upload speeds are faster than those seen with 4G LTE.
Where do we go from here?
As with any new technology, there will be some initial drawbacks as the system is being streamlined, but 5G has a range of advantages that outweigh any disadvantages. It will continue to dominate the networking market as technology improves and its range expands, thanks to its improved speeds and reliability.
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