5g tower

Europe’s first experimental 5G network starts broadcasting in Berlin

Image credit: deutsche telekom

Europe’s first 5G antennas have been erected in Berlin, demonstrating the capabilities of the technology which will eventually be used for autonomous driving and remote medical operations.

With the final draft of the 5G specification being published earlier this year, global operators are testing the technology in order to understand its capabilities and limits.

Using pre-standard 5G New Radio, the future mobile communications component of 5G, the network is achieving throughput of more than two gigabits per second to a single customer device, as well as a latency of three milliseconds on commercial sites in Berlin’s Schöneberg district.

Even this early deployment represents double the speed of experimental trials with 4G in July which managed to speed that spec up to just under one gigabit.

“We are demonstrating 5G live here, in the middle of Berlin, rather than in a lab. This is a very decisive developmental step on the way to the global launch of 5G, which is planned for 2020,” said Claudia Nemat at Deutsche Telekom (DT).

“If everything is connected to everything else, customers need a high-performance, reliable and secure network. Industry in particular will benefit from 5G as a powerful enabler for a wide range of applications. We are ready for 5G.”

The 5G standard will eventually enable a whole new set of applications such as remote controlled passenger vehicles, wireless virtual reality (VR) headsets and even remote surgeries that would simply not be possible on current networks.

During the tests in Berlin, ultra-high-definition video was streamed to a VR device in real time and augmented reality glasses were worn by a telecoms engineer, which superimposed instructions about how to fix a network box into his field of vision.

Despite the impressive speeds shown in this early demonstration, 5G networks are ultimately expected to provide speeds some 10 to 100 times faster than today’s 4G networks.

The worldwide race to provide 5G is currently being led by South Korea and Japan, which plan to deploy it in the next year or so, followed quickly by the United States where Telekom is the majority owner of No. 3 ranked mobile carrier T-Mobile.

Although Nemat has not stated exactly how much DT is spending on 5G, she said it would invest €5bn (£4.46bn) a year in Germany, including in fibre-optic cable and network modernisation that is needed to make the new standard a reality.

While current 5G technology is nowhere near miniaturised enough to be included in smartphones yet, the CEO of Qualcomm recently said that the first mass-market phones equipped to meet the next-generation mobile standards should become available in Asia and the US in 2019.

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