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Mobile World Congress 2017

Why 5G mobile broadband will be good for your health

Research has shown regular humans (let alone Hongkongers) get stressed and their hearts go ba-boom when there’s a delay loading handset content, so lightning-fast downloads should calm us all down

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 6:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 6:15am

We all know the attention span of smartphone users is falling dramatically, but neuroscience research has revealed that even small content loading delays on our phones can raise heart rates by almost 40 per cent.

The study of the brain activity, pulse and eye movements of 150 volunteers in Dusseldorf, Germany, commissioned by telecoms giant Ericsson last year, found that, on average, single delays resulted in a 38 per cent increase in heart rate and, therefore, tension and higher stress levels. The chief culprits in this 4G era are buffering video, web pages that take more than a second to load, and selfies that take two seconds or more to upload to Facebook.

The conclusion? Anything less than ultra high-speed 4G connections leave people not only frustrated, but psychologically and physically affected.

Could super-fast 5G mobile broadband help calm us all down? The telecom industry is planning to install all-new 5G networks within the next few years to make downloads and uploads up to 1,000 times faster than 4G.

Initially, we’re going to hear about one-gigbit-per-second (Gbps) speeds referred to as “gigabit” downloads. Hong Kong already has some of the highest peak speeds of 4G in the world, with CSL currently offering a top speed of 450 megabits-per-second, but a whole new class of smartphone will be needed to deal in speeds at least three times faster.

Other than stress busting, 5G also promises to enhance our experience of digital entertainment. One of the key uses of gigabit downloads will be to stream Ultra HD 4K video from the likes of YouTube and Netflix.

The first job of 5G will be to save mobile networks from video overload. Video now accounts for about 75 per cent of data crossing cellular networks, almost all of it from smartphones. The arrival of Ultra HD 4K – and probably higher resolution audio from services like Spotify – means new capacity will become essential.

Although there are scores of phones that can capture and play video in Ultra HD 4K – among them the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium, the iPhone 7 Plus and the Google Pixel – the first phones capable of streaming 4K video were announced at February’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Since both can download data from Wi-fi at a gigabit-per-second, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and the ZTE Gigabit phone are being referred to as “5G phones”.

Such high speed can also enable brand new applications of mobile technology such as virtual reality (VR). As well as increasing video to 4K resolution, it can now be captured in 360 degrees, which could unleash new entertainment options.

How stupid and smartphones go together in Hong Kong

At the congress, Nokia was showing off a new way of broadcasting sport; 360-degrees cameras were at various places in a football stadium, all filming the same match from different viewing positions. Put on a 5G-enabled wireless VR headset and the wearer can choose where to “sit”, and move whenever they feel like it.

Immersive, live mobile video using massively more data won’t just be passive. Intel was showing how live 8K VR multiplayer gaming could be streamed to a VR headset.

Will anyone want to do this? People share everything on social media; it’s no coincidence the Oculus Rift VR headset is owned by Facebook, which expects to soon be sharing not just photos and videos, but VR experiences – and also VR events.

Instead of uploading a selfie, 5G will enable us to broadcast moments in 360-degree VR and, social media could also be a platform for “event VR”, where you pay to watch a live VR concert or sports event. None of that can happen without 5G.

But 5G is not coming to your home or handsets any time soon. There are no 5G networks and no possible way of downloading anything at even close to those speeds for now (Wi-Fi routers exist, but only as prototypes).

5G future the talk of Mobile World Congress, even though consumers won’t see the new tech for at least three years

The demos at the congress are all part of the smartphone industry’s attempt to get us ready for lightning-fast upload and download speeds that 5G will bring.

“The 5G world is about speed, but it’s also about latency – from when you hit the enter key until the time you get a response – and 5G gets that down into such a small millisecond range that it’s virtually real-time,” says Thaddeus Arroyo, chief executive of mobile and business solutions at AT&T.

So what’s next?

Sport is expected to play a key role in the emerging 5G era. SK Telecom is planning to use the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang in February next year to launch the world’s first 5G live service, while KT is looking to offer spectators 4K video and VR experiences.

In Barcelona, KT was showing Luge VR, where spectators could don a headset and get a live feed from a sled racing down the ice track.

Will someone else beat KT to the finish line?

“The scale deployment of 5G networks depends on two factors: the first is the release timetable of 5G standards, which is expected to be in the second quarter of 2018,” says Xiang Jiying, chief scientist at ZTE, which works with China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.

ZTE has already achieved downloads better than 10Gbps in its 5G testing. “The second factor is the actual subscriber’s need, and the deployment schedule of mobile carriers.”

China Mobile targets steady build-out of 5G infrastructure from 2018

Whenever and wherever it first appears, some admit that 5G could be a slow burner.

“The current 4G networks are capable of being improved, so 4G and 5G networks will coexist for a very long time,” says Kai Sahala, head of radio marketing for mobile networks at Nokia. “5G will initially have spotty coverage, so it will be used in urban areas and for specific cases.”

He adds that while 5G is about a massive throughput of 20Gbps per user and millisecond latency, it will also make it possible to get a 100 Mbps connection on a phone almost everywhere on the planet. Most smartphone users would settle for that.

But streaming in higher quality will only become practical if – and it’s a big if – 5G comes with unlimited data plans. That will be crucial because although the telecoms industry hasn’t officially decided on how fast a 5G network connection has to be, the targeted download rate is a massive 20Gbps, with an upload of 10Gbps. That’s a lot of data of use by accident.