5G is up to 20 times faster than LTE and headed right for us

Browsing the web on 5G. Photo: BBC

Browsing the web on 5G. Photo: BBC

Having 4G connectivity when you want to stream music or download a game is awesome, but when 5G gets here, your LTE smartphone will feel like dial-up on Windows 95 all over again.

The new standard, which is officially named “IMT-2020,” can reach speeds of up to 20 Gbps, which is 20 times faster than the 4G we have today. With data that fast, you could download a 25GB Ultra HD movie in just 10 seconds.

A regular HD movie, weighing in at around 3GB, would take just 1 second to download, while a 1GB episode of your favorite TV show would be ready to watch before you’ve even lifted your finger off the “Download” button.

We’ve actually been talking about “5G” for a long time, but it wasn’t until this week that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) decided on its official name, which follows IMT-2000 (3G) and IMT-Advanced (4G).

Not only will the technology be significantly faster than 4G, but it’s also expected to bring other benefits. The transmission delay for 5G is just 1ms — down from 4G’s 10ms — which would make it ideal for driverless cars that require split-second reaction times.

5G is also much more power efficient — 100 times more efficient than 4G — which would allow it to be used in even the smallest of gadgets.

All of the promises made about 5G are incredibly exciting, but getting excited about it now would be a little premature. While a name may be set in stone, the ITU now has to work out what kind of radio technology is needed to deliver those ambitious speeds to an ever-increasing number of devices.

That’s going to take time. The plan is to begin testing 5G in 2018 at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, where the technology will be used to demonstrate cutting-edge backup technologies. However, wider testing won’t begin until 2019, and 5G won’t begin to make its way to consumers until 2020.

That gives broadband providers a chance to catch up. If I can get 20 Gbps speeds wirelessly through the air, then I should be able to get at least that through a cable plugged into my house.