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The future of mobile data: LTE-Advance, 5G and beyond

Posted on 07 April 2014

The future of mobile data: LTE-Advance, 5G and beyond

Mobile internet has come a long way since 2G was launched around 20 years ago. That advancement isn’t showing any signs of stopping either. 4G arrived in London just 18 months ago with EE’s LTE network and now the company has started rolling out 4.5G, more commonly known as LTE-Advanced.

So where will the future take mobile internet? And do we really need our internet speeds to get even faster?

What is the future of mobile internet?

The immediate future for the UK is a wider rollout of 4G. At the moment, EE has the largest 4G network and covers just over 60 per cent of people. But by the end of 2015, EE, O2, Vodafone and Three should all cover 98 per cent of people, bringing superfast internet to more homes than ever with speeds of up to 60Mb per second.

As we mentioned above, EE is already looking beyond 4G with LTE-Advanced. It launched the world’s fastest mobile data connection in London with speeds hitting nearly 300Mb per second. For now this is reserved for big businesses in the City of London but after EE finishes its 4G rollout in 2015, we could see the LTE-Advanced network spread out to ordinary customers. That would let you stream Netflix in 4K Ultra HD with only a couple of seconds of buffering.

If LTE-Advanced sounds like it would be more than enough for anyone’s needs, you might be surprised to hear that companies like Huawei and South Korean Telecom (SKT) are already testing 5G. In fact, SKT says it wants to start rolling out 5G with speeds up to 1GB (1,000Mb) per second by 2020. That would let you download a Full HD movie in a couple of seconds.

Beyond 5G is hard to guess right now. But considering SKT plans to take mobile internet speeds from around 70Mb per second in 2013 to 1GB per second in 2020, we can expect it to be fast. In a controlled test at the start of this year, BT managed to get the world’s fastest wired broadband connection at 1,400GB per second. So 6G or even 7G could see this sort of speed sent through the air.

Do we need all that speed?

Right now, anything more than LTE-Advanced on a normal person’s mobile would be pointless. If you want to stream HD movies while on the bus then the 300Mb per second speeds would be plenty. For most of us at the moment, though, we have to make do with a bit more buffering time over the 4G networks, or watch a grainier picture in standard definition over 3G.

But by 2020, when SK Telecom thinks it’ll have the first commercially available 5G network, we’ll have all new devices and have completely changed the way we use them. In the mid-90s when 2G launched, the average web page was just 40Kb in size and would load in a couple of seconds. Now, the average web page is around 1.5MB, meaning you’d be waiting minutes to read a news article if you were stuck on 2G. So by the time 5G arrives, we’re sure we’ll all want it, and some of us will need it.

You can learn more about the next great phones, even before they’re announced, on our Launchpad Rumour pages. Or, head over to our YouTube channel to keep up with what’s happening in the mobile world. We’ll be at the best technology shows, get you all the news about the latest phones, and post video reviews of our favourite gadgets.

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