House of Commons Library


Published Friday, February 22, 2019

A House of Commons Library Briefing on 5G - the fifth generation of mobile technology. Included is an explanation of 5G and its expected uses; policy challenges associated with 5G and information about the roll-out of 5G in the UK including forthcoming spectrum auctions.

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What is 5G?

5G is the next generation of wireless technology, following 2G, 3G and 4G. It is expected to provide faster connections with much higher capacity and very fast response times, which means that many more users and devices can access fast internet connections and large amounts of data at the same time. In addition to faster and higher capacity mobile networks, 5G is expected to support a variety of other uses and applications beyond mobile broadband. Examples include in healthcare, smart cities, transport and manufacturing.

Government 5G policy

The Government’s strategy for future digital infrastructure – full-fibre and 5G – is set out in DCMS’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), published on 23 July 2018. The Government set a target that the majority of the population will be covered by a 5G signal by 2027.

When will 5G be rolled out?

5G mobile broadband will be the first application of 5G to be rolled out commercially. The roll-out of 5G mobile broadband is led by commercial mobile network operators (MNOs) and roll-out plans are not usually publicly available. Some MNOs have begun 5G trials and announced early network roll-out plans beginning in 2019. Trials for 5G applications and use cases are ongoing, for example, through the Government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials programme. The type and scale of 5G applications is still unknown and developing.

5G policy challenges

5G presents some new and different infrastructure challenges compared to 3G and 4G. 5G is expected to see a greater number of small cells (low powered base stations that can be mounted on buildings and street furniture) and will require wider deployment of full-fibre broadband infrastructure. DCMS’s Digital Connectivity Portal provides practical guidance for local authorities and commercial providers intending to facilitate deployment of digital infrastructure. Additionally, 5G deployment will require significant investment from mobile operators and other stakeholders, which still presents commercial risks and uncertainties as 5G applications and business cases develop. This paper also covers other 5G policy challenges including security and health concerns.

Spectrum for 5G

5G will require spectrum of different frequencies to suit different applications. Ofcom is working on making spectrum available in three categories:

  • Low frequency spectrum (the 700 MHz band) to enable wide coverage;
  • Mid-frequency spectrum (the 3.4–3.8 GHz band) for large bandwidths to provide necessary capacity and to enable higher speeds; and
  • High-frequency spectrum (26 GHz band) providing ultra-high capacity but with very small coverage ranges.

Some 5G spectrum was auctioned in April 2018 (the 3.4–3.6 GHz band; see the Library paper: Spectrum Auctions 2018 for background). Ofcom plans to auction spectrum in the 700 MHz and 3.6–3.8 GHz bands by Spring 2020. Trial licences are available in the 26 GHz band.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7883

Author: Georgina Hutton

Topic: Telecommunications

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