5G in plain English — Part One

Faster mobile. Deadly radiation? Population mind control? Disruption of weather satellites? There’s a lot of noise and confusion about what 5G will mean, so let’s clear it up.

This article is part one of two, it will focus on what 5G is and does and will be based on fact, part two covers the far more interesting conspiracy theories, health risks, and doomsday predictions that are associated with 5G.

What is 5G?

First, the G stands for Generation, 5G being the fifth generation of mobile network. What do I mean by a generation? Well it’s just like different iPhone models, with each new model of phone they can do more and go faster. Don’t get confused into thinking there’s any correlation between the iPhone model number and the mobile generation, mobile generations change about once a decade, but we get new iPhones every year.

To bring you up to speed (excuse the pun) let’s have a quick flashback of the previous generations of mobile technology. This will help put 5G into context, and I promise to be quick.

Zero G, the lost art of conversation.

Yes, there was a zero G, that was the time before mobile phones. When phones were attached to buildings with a wire, when we had to use phone booths, and when people actually spoke to each other on dates.

1G, drug dealers, bankers, and wankers.

Yep, if you had a mobile phone in the early 1G era you were probably one of those, that was back in the 1980’s when mobile phones were the size of a large brick. They could only do two things, make phone calls, and make the user look like a complete tosser.

2G, texting.

Remember 2G? Well maybe you don’t as it was around back in the late 1990s and had amazing features such as Short Message Service (we call it texting), and basic picture messaging, but don’t even think about browsing the web on 2G, unless you love watching paint dry. There was an iPhone back then, just, in 2007 the original iPhone ran on 2G.

3G, smartphones and mobile data.

Finally, with 3G we could realistically use the internet on our mobiles, and they weren’t just mobiles anymore, they were smartphones. Along came phones with cameras, touch screens, and apps. The iPhone 3G arrived in 2008 and pretty much changed our lives forever. This was the only model of the iPhone named after the generation of mobile network. No, your iPhone 8 isn’t running on an 8G network. The 3G network gave us data speeds of around 1–1.5Mb, which at the time was amazing.

4G, today, Netflix anywhere.

The other thing you might remember is that up until 4G there were two types of mobile network, GSM and CDMA. Phones were one or the other, if you bought a GSM phone you could only use it on a GSM network. CDMA was technically superior, but GSM was what all the cool people used. Finally, with 4G all that debate ended, and there was just one mobile technology, it had the rather strange name of Long-Term-Evolution, or LTE. Anyway, what really mattered is that it was fast, really fast. 4G gave us data speeds of 100Mb, so you can work on a 4G mobile connection and get almost the same experience as if you were plugged into a network or on WIFI. In fact, in some cases where there is crappy WIFI it’s often faster to just use 4G.

5G, it goes faster.

5G networks could reach speeds of over 1Gb (that’s 1,000Mb vs 4G’s 100–300Mb), some say it could get up to 10Gb. I say could because so much of it is theoretical, the real world determines what speed you actually get. Are you miles from nowhere with crap coverage? Are you in a stadium with 60,000 other people all trying to upload selfies? Are you in the basement of a carpark surrounded by concrete? All of these will screw up your speed.

I find it amazing that mobile companies still talk about how the extra speed means you can download movies faster, for example “With 5G you can download a 4K movie in 2 minutes, it would take 30 minutes on 4G”. What they don’t realise is that no one downloads movies, we stream them. It still takes a human two and a half hours to watch a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie, so the fact I can download it in 2 minutes doesn’t matter to most of the world.

The big question is, what are you going to do with all that extra speed? At the risk of sounding like Bill Gates who said that no one would ever need more than 640Kb of memory, I’m willing to say that we might not really notice the speed difference between 4G and 5G.

One place where that extra speed could be useful is when you need to set up a WIFI hotspot for a large group of people. Being able to turn on a hotspot that is connected to the Internet by 5G means everyone using it will get decent speeds. Think about temporary offices, emergency situations, events, or a family holiday in an unfeasibly small caravan with six hyperactive screen-addicts under the age of 10, you’re going to need all the speed you can get.

I won’t go into the lower latency of 5G, because if you understand the impact of latency on the performance of a network then you don’t need to be reading this, and there isn’t enough real-world evidence yet to show what the real latency will be on 5G.


Hopefully you can now imagine what 5G is, it’s the next generation of mobile network and it will be so much faster than 4G. That’s the basic premise, and you can stop reading here if that’s all you wanted to know. But then you’ll miss all the interesting bits.

You see the thing that makes 5G interesting isn’t that it’s a faster mobile technology, that’s downright dull, we expect new stuff to be faster so that would hardly be worth writing about. According to some, the thing that makes 5G interesting is that it is actually a secret emotional state control device used to influence the political orientations of mass populations, and it is also used to jam weather satellites to hide the effects of climate change. While its doing both those things it’s also killing us. That’s what’s interesting about 5G.

Don’t Panic

If you are one of the believers of these theories then don’t panic, pop over to my online store and pick up a tinfoil hat, we have them in a range of sizes, we even have one for your dog (cats don’t need them as their brains work on a higher frequency than humans), they come in any colour you want so long as its silver.

But first, the Facts

In part two of this two-part series I will give you my well informed and somewhat sarcastic view on these conspiracy theories, but in this first part let’s focus on the other key things 5G will do. So other than go really really fast, what does 5G do?

It lets Machines talk to Machines

This is where 5G starts to bring in new features, just like 2G brought us text messaging, 5G brings us machine to machine messaging. This doesn’t matter a great deal to the average consumer, but it matters a lot to organisations that want to use the Internet of Things to monitor and automate things. 5G’s terribly named Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) allows low cost, low powered devices to communicate with each other.

Imagine if a water company could put sensors every 100 meters in water supply pipes to look for leaks and water pollution. Across a city that could be a million sensors, so at a few thousands of dollars per sensor that would be billions of dollars. It’s just not feasible. But if they could use a sensor that only cost $20, that would be only $20 million, yes, it’s still a lot of money but it’s only a fraction of the previous cost, and now it is feasible.

Imagine the improvement to water supplies that would occur with that level of real time information. In many cities over 30% of fresh water is lost due to unknown leaks in pipes, and with fresh water becoming one of our most precious commodities that’s a huge issue.

How does 5G reduce the cost of a sensor from several thousand to only $20? Devices on traditional mobile networks (3G and 4G) need quite a bit of power to connect, on a 5G network they need very little power, hardly any. This means the sensor no longer needs a huge and expensive battery, or some form of recharging source (such as solar panels), or regular visits by a technician to change the battery. Take all of that away and you can make a low-cost sensor that will last for years on a low-cost battery and never need a technician to service it.

This ridiculously named mMTC feature of 5G isn’t likely to be widely available until 2021, but it is quite possibly the killer application of 5G.

Critical Communications — It works when you need it to

If you thought Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) was a mouthful, try this one on for size, Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC). I don’t know what it is about mobile engineers that they feel the need to invent the world’s longest names for everything.

This new feature of 5G will provide fast and safe connections for cases where it really matters. No, not when you need to share that photo of your breakfast cereal before the rice bubbles stop looking like the Virgin Mary, a time when it really matters. Could you imagine being operated on remotely by a brain surgeon, the surgeon is watching what she’s doing by video, and controlling a surgical robot from hundreds of miles away. You might be comfortable with it if your surgeon was connected over a diverse fibre connection that was guaranteed not to fail, but what if they were connected over a mobile network? Oh crap the mobile connection dropped just as they fired up the surgical laser, they just nuked your entire pre-frontal cortex, never mind, we now have a fresh replacement for President Trump.

5G’s Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication does pretty much what the long name says, which is good or that would be an even sillier name. It means that sensors can communicate reliably and “instantly” over the network. A two second delay between moving the surgical laser and the remote surgeon seeing it move just isn’t a good thing, this is the kind of situation where there needs to be instant communications.

This is mainly intended for machine to machine, or sensors, as people are pretty good at dealing with a few seconds of delay in our communications.

The most common use case for all of this is autonomous vehicles, that’s self-driving cars to the rest of us. Although they are called autonomous, there are plenty of situations in which they need to be connected, and this is where 5G makes a difference. The ability to communicate instantly and reliably actually matters when you’re speeding along at 90 MPH two feet from the self-driving car in front of you.

So that’s what 5G does in a nutshell, it goes really, really fast, it makes it feasible to have massive amounts of sensors and machines connected, and it gives us an instant and reliable connection. What’s not to love?

But wait there’s more…

Read on in part two of this two-part series where we start to move from facts to opinion, this is where I try to provide a balanced point of view, I said try, some of the views are just begging to have the piss taken out of them.



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