How is 5G different?

The first generation telephone (1G) was a fixed line with copper-wire connection through a local telephone exchange. Each subsequent generation of telephony has delivered improvements, bringing us today’s high-speed data of voice, video-streaming and text over a range of mobile devices.

5G is different because it dramatically increases the speed in transfer data, for live-streaming or the integration of complex systems across the cloud. This reduction in latency (the amount of time between a command and its corresponding action) means near speed-of-light transmission. 5G enables rapid exchanges of information between computer-based systems, minimising human intervention and input.

According to Ofcom, 5G will be able to offer peak speeds of 10-20 gigabits per second and the ability to connect 1 million devices per square kilometre. This is up to 20 times faster than 4G performance.

Network slicing

Another critical difference offered by 5G is that it is capable of ‘network slicing’, which will allow multiple networks to be created on common shared physical infrastructure. For example, a connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) needs split-second, high-speed connectivity to prevent collisions with other vehicles, while streaming services enjoyed by passengers require a large throughput of data but can tolerate a slight time delay.

Both would function at an optimal level over the common 5G physical network using ‘network slicing’ to maximise the network’s capabilities.

The benefits

Experts say an increase in the magnitude of speed can have a substantial impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP).(1) Such enhanced connectivity will allow Scotland to develop in the spheres of transport, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and remoting monitoring, which will help Scotland’s remote and rural communities.

In essence, 5G is a technology that will allow us to be better informed, more able to respond and adapt to change, and bring new levels of operation and intelligence to automated systems. It has the ability to narrow the digital divide between rich and poor citizens and help us all rethink how we deliver services, how we live and how we work.


For more about how 5G can help businesses, the public sector and individuals in Scotland, read our Knowledge Bank article on What are the potential benefits of 5G?

  • Rohman & Bohlin (2012). ‘Does broadband speed really matter for driving economic growth? Investigating OECD countries.’ The magnitude of this relationship between speed and GDP corroborates form this study which also estimated that a 10% increase in speeds could increase GDP by 0.03%.

Article published June 2020