The fuss over 5G

People stand in front of a board depicting 5G network at the India Mobile Congress 2018 in New Delhi, India on Oct 26, 2018.
People stand in front of a board depicting 5G network at the India Mobile Congress 2018 in New Delhi, India on Oct 26, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

WHAT IS 5G?

It stands for the fifth-generation mobile network technology. It is faster in data transmission and processing, and capacity compared to previous generations of technology. It is said to be at least 10 times faster than 4G.

WHY IS IT BETTER?

A key feature of 5G is that it reduces network latency - the lag between a signal being sent and received. This can transform the way things operate in any place that taps the technology. The technology can be used in more applications, including ships, planes, pacemakers, incubators, power stations and oil pipelines.

In autonomous cars, for example, faster data transfer is crucial for safety reasons, said Mr Andrew Kitson, head of Fitch Solutions' technology industry research. It will also help to accelerate decision-making processes in artificial intelligence applications that need human-like responses.

WHO IS IN THE RACE?

The value chain is made up of device vendors, network infrastructure vendors, software vendors, network operators who also provide services, service providers who use others' networks to reach end users such as WhatsApp and WeChat, regulators and governments.

Huawei falls into the hardware, software and service categories, making it an important part of the value chain.

Other players are semiconductor manufacturers such as Qualcomm, Intel, and Texas Instruments; networking and transmission gear manufacturers such as Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco Systems; software and computing players such as Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

WHEN WILL IT BE ROLLED OUT?

Pilots of 5G networks have started in several countries, but the full international standards have not yet been agreed.

Commercial operations are slated to start next year in the United States and China. Japan and South Korea target to roll out 5G in 2020.

Mr Michael Graham of PwC South-east Asia said that in South-east Asia, "no one's fully finished with 4G roll out". He does not expect any network other than perhaps Singtel to do anything proactive to roll out 5G for the next three years.

WHAT ARE SOME CONCERNS OVER 5G?

Chinese technology companies came close to winning a big share of the 4G market with their homegrown standards. This has given them an edge as they now use a combination of their own designs and other vendors' designs, together with the billions pumped into building infrastructures, to support pure 5G networks.

"If they can come up with a superlative variation of 5G and offer this at low cost to operators and governments, they could edge out European and US players," said Mr Kitson.

The potential and connectivity of 5G also give cyber criminals more room to do greater damage, on top of difficulties in defending new structures and devices.

Claire Huang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2018, with the headline 'The fuss over 5G'. Print Edition | Subscribe