Self-driving cars, smart shipping and drones all depend on reliable and fast mobile telecommunications. For instance, because they need constant software updates to remain in safe working order. And because they need interaction with each other and with relevant infrastructure to be able to function properly. The newest generation mobile telecom – 5G – will play an essential role in this.

To what extent does 5G differ from the current generation of mobile telecom, 4G? First of all, because the capacity of the mobile network will increase substantially. And with it, speeds for individual users, as well as the amount of data they can send and receive. Similar to what happened in the switchover from 3G to 4G.

Suitable for IoT and critical communication
Secondly, 5G has been optimized for the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s not so much that these ‘things’ need high data speeds, but the majority of them do need deep indoor coverage. Like sensors in an underground parking garage measuring occupancy, or meters monitoring the flow in the water supply network. Low energy consumption is also an important factor, enabling a sensor to operate for years on one battery life.

Thirdly, 5G will be suitable for critical communication, for example by the emergency services or between lorries travelling in convoy. On the one hand this requires latency in the connection to be minimized, from dozens (4G) to a few milliseconds, enabling real-time connections and with it, the remote control of e.g. vehicles or drones over 5G.

On the other hand, 5G can assign guaranteed capacity to connections crucially needing it. As a result, critical connections no longer run the risk of not being seen to when the available capacity of the mobile network is under pressure.

When can 5G be deployed? That is still unclear, due to a number of challenges. For example, a choice has been made worldwide for a certain spectrum of bandwidth for 5G. The main one being 3.5 GHz. Network equipment and devices are currently being adapted for this bandwidth by the internationally oriented telecom industry.

But in the Netherlands that band is not available for 5G as it is being used by the intelligence services of the Ministry of Defence. It is therefore unclear when and how this band can be deployed in the Netherlands. More information is expected from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy in the coming months.

In addition, there is a risk that the EU will prescribe a different technology by law, based on a Wi-Fi standard. That could hamper the use of the promising 5G technology. Which is why the automobile and telecom industry have called upon the EU to refrain from a technology choice.

And finally there is the subject of net neutrality. The law stipulates conditions under which certain data traffic or certain data services can have preference. We still have to find out what room this offers for the critical communication enabled by 5G.

No matter what, 5G is coming. Vodafone is already carrying out extensive tests of the technology as well as the applications in its networks all over the world. In the Netherlands, this is being done in the programme 5Groningen.

5G will enable unprecedented new applications, and significantly change the way in which we live and work. Also when it comes to self-driving cars, smart shipping and drones. What will you be doing in your car when you no longer need to drive? Or will you order a drone taxi in future?


Sander van de Zande is Technology Strategy Manager at VodafoneZiggo. He has more than 20 years of experience in mobile telecom. He experienced at first-hand how initially 2G, and later 3G and 4G were introduced and became successful. At VodafoneZiggo he is now responsible for the introduction of 5G.

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