The fourth generation of mobile connectivity transformed the industry in the late 2000s – with faster internet speeds and high-quality video streaming. However, the rise of Internet of Things created a demand for a volume of connections that 4G cannot manage. This is where 5G comes in.

5G is the next generation of mobile network. It promises to deliver faster network speeds, lower latency rates and more efficiency than its predecessors. The UK has invested heavily in developing a 5G network, with the country’s main network operators (Vodafone, Three, O2 and EE) already starting to roll out high-performance connectivity in several cities this year.

Speed

The biggest differentiator between 4G and 5G is speed. 4G has a maximum download speed of 300 Mbps, whereas 5G is expected to achieve speeds of 10 Gbps. On a 4G network you can download an average HD movie in less than 10 minutes – on 5G it would take as little as four seconds.

Capacity

Mobile networks use radio waves to transfer data. 5G will use much higher frequencies than 4G to do this – increasing from below 6GHz to anywhere between 30 and 300GHz. This essentially means more capacity to use data – allowing easier use of apps or streaming and downloading videos.

Latency

5G has the potential for much lower latency rates than 4G. Latency is the time it takes for the network to respond to a request. Standing at just 1 millisecond, 5G is 50 times better than its predecessor. That makes things like gaming and streaming much easier because your phone responds faster.

Environmental concerns

While the capabilities of 5G far exceed its former generations, the impact of a network upgrade could be harmful to the environment.

As older 4G devices become obsolete, the amount of e-waste sent to landfill is expected to increase. 1.4 million tonnes of unwanted electronics are sent to landfill every year in the UK, leeching harmful toxins into the earth.

The solution to this toxic e-waste legacy is recovering, recycling and reusing technology products. A leader in this field is GSUK – which currently processes around 10,000 phones and more than 200,000 units of accessories (charging cables, plugs etc.) each month. Since it was founded in 2008, it has stopped more than 8,000 tonnes of e-waste going to landfill. That is the equivalent of 651 double decker buses.

5G has the scope to open new segments of the mobile and accessories market and create a new level of connectivity, but there is equally the potential for environmental damage.

We need to work together as an industry and as consumers to build a sustainable future.

Emily Brewster

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