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5G is getting closer: big brands gear up to launch first 5G phone

Following successful trials around the world, smartphone manufacturers are preparing for fifth generation mobile networks - and the UK isn't far behind

Parts of the UK may still be waiting for reliable 4G, but the technology could be outdated by the time it arrives – 5G is getting closer, with Sony looking like it could release the world’s first 5G-capable smartphone.

At a recent presentation event for investors Sony stressed how important smartphone innovation has been for the company down the years. It then went on to broadly outline the aims of its new Xperia handset: in addition to quicker and more momentous improvements it specifically mentioned 5G as being a top priority. Combine that with murmurings from other manufacturer camps and it’s looking all but certain that the UK will see the first 5G mobile phones in 2019.

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Leaked images of the upcoming Sony Xperia XZ3 via @onleaks

Who makes 5G mobile phones?

Sony is currently leading the charge to be the first, or so it seems, but there’s still plenty of competition for the storied Japanese brand. Here are the handsets we expect to come ready for 5G when they release next year:

  • Sony Xperia XZ3
  • OnePlus 7
  • Huawei P30 Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy S10

None of those names are terribly surprising, and there could well be more additions to it in due course. With new flagship smartphones usually being announced at the start of the year, don’t be surprised if the race to 5G sees the first handset released around March or April 2019.

5G phones may also look a little different than we’re used to if the new tech requires a change in form factor. Handsets are already big, but 5G technology could require more space inside along with a bigger battery to power them.

How will 5G improve mobile phones?

5G will of course bring faster download speeds, but what else can it do? As it happens, 5G has a lot of potential applications:

  • Augmented reality With handsets already capable of a basic standard of augmented reality (or ‘AR’), 5G could seriously push the medium forward. AR is a bit like virtual reality (or ‘VR’), except instead of you strapping on a headset or goggles it instead uses your smartphone’s display and camera to show you an altered version of the world around you. Fantastical, yes, but it also has practical uses – like showing you if a sofa you’re shopping for online will fit in your lounge, or what that dress you’ve been eyeing up will look like on you. Faster data means all this can be relayed to you smoother, in real-time. Find out more in our guide to augmented reality.
  • Better video calling Apple’s FaceTime is hugely popular, as is Skype, but there’s no denying it’s far from the perfect experience. Crackling images, bumpy frame rates and dropped audio all make it feel like more of a chore than it should be, and 5G could put an end to all of that. Faster data means higher fidelity, more reliable sound and video. In fact the improvement could be so drastic that we might see things such as 3D video calling. Manufacturer Oppo is already working on the technology which could see Star Wars style virtual calls become reality.
  • A better, more powerful cloud The thing about cloud computing is that it’s totally unobtrusive – you’re probably not even aware of when your smartphone is using it. With faster 5G data, though, it will become a lot more prevalent. Not only will you be accessing saved files in the cloud, but games, movies and music will all be streamed straight from it more often, saving you memory on your handset.
  • Faster tethering For some users, a 4G smartphone data connection is faster than wi-fi, meaning smartphone tethering is the best way to browse the web on a laptop or computer. 5G will only further improve upon that – using your 5G smartphone as a wireless hotspot could offer some seriously fast connection speeds.

5G: What have we seen so far?

For something that’s so close to being realised, just how 5G will work is still something of a mystery. Experts can only estimate how great its impact will be until it’s fully rolled out – how it functions in lab tests may not reflect how it functions when being used by thousands of people all at once.

The world’s first 5G network launched in Qatar in May of this year, courtesy of telecomms provider Ooredoo. As there are no 5G mobile handsets available right now, it’s currently only servicing a few lucky home broadband users. It was followed closely by Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Telecom Company, which launched later that month with the aim of being ready for when 5G mobile devices finally arrive.

Several other nations have trialled 5G, including South Korea during its time hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, but there are no other networks up and running right now. In the UK EE has announced that it plans to trial its 5G network in October of this year, with London unsurprisingly the first city being targeted for the service.

5G vs 4G: How much faster is it?

Most of us are probably fairly satisfied with 4G speeds – it’s a big step up on 3G and will load most webpages and videos without any hanging around. It wasn’t quite as big a step up as 3G was from 2G, though, so you’d be forgiven for being skeptical of the supposed impact of 5G. Below we’ve prepared a chart showing how 5G might affect you in your day-to-day life:

With the average UK 4G speed sitting at around 18Mbps and the projected average 5G speed set to be a whopping 56Mbps that’s a huge difference. What’s more, 56Mbps is just the beginning – 5G has the potential to reach download speeds of over 1GB per second, or even faster – that’s quicker than the best fibre broadband in the country.

Find out who we currently rate as the best and worst mobile providers for 2018.

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