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5G networks are technologically different to previous mobile networks in several ways, including the use of: new radio spectrum frequencies, new and upgraded mobile base stations (which connect devices such as smartphones to the rest of the telecommunications network) and new software techniques to help control and manage telecoms traffic more effectively. 5G will initially be rolled out on existing base station sites, which will be upgraded to operate using the new radio spectrum allocated for 5G. In the longer term, 5G may require deployment of a greater number of ‘small cells’ (small, low power base stations), in areas with a high demand for mobile broadband.

The government has said it wants the UK to be a global leader in 5G and, in its 2018 Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, announced its ambition for the “majority of the UK” to have 5G mobile coverage by 2027. Work is ongoing across industry and government in the UK to develop 5G mobile networks and to trial 5G in other sectors. The UK’s four mobile network operators have carried out trials of 5G technology and EE and Vodafone have recently launched commercial 5G networks in parts of several UK cities.

This POSTbrief provides a technical overview of 5G technology, including the radio spectrum, infrastructure and software it is expected to use. It discusses the application of 5G in mobile broadband and its potential applications in other sectors such as healthcare and transport. It provides an overview of some of the main challenges for the implementation of 5G and gives a general overview of global developments.

Acknowledgements

POSTbriefs are responsive policy briefings from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. This POSTbrief is based on a literature review, interviews with external stakeholders and peer review. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Broadband Stakeholder Group*
  • CityFibre*
  • Dave Happy – Telint*
  • Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport*
  • Dr Mike Short – Department for International Trade*
  • EE*
  • European Telecommunications Standards Institute*
  • Julian McGougan – techUK*
  • Lorenzo Casaccia – Qualcomm*
  • National Physical Laboratory*
  • O2*
  • Ofcom*
  • Professor Mischa Dohler – King’s College London*
  • Professor Rahim Tafazolli – University of Surrey
  • Professor Will Stewart – Institution of Engineering and Technology*
  • Professor William Webb – Institution of Engineering and Technology*
  • Sergio Buonomo – International Telecoms Union*
  • Sylvia Lu – u-blox*
  • Three*
  • Vodafone*

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