Legal tech: What is 5G?

Legal tech: What is 5G?

Matt Blowes August 17, 2017 Legal

After years of 4G promotions and advertising, the term 5G is starting to creep into technology news and marketing. Every ten years mobile technology standards see a significant change. We're now approaching the next ten year mark in 2020.

This is the second in our series on new technology that may radically shake up the legal profession.

The second technology is: 5G

Impact Rating: ★★★☆☆

5G will become a new standard for mobile network technology that will ultimately replace both 3G and 4G networks. 

This is the second in our series on new technology that may radically shake up the legal profession.

5G has the potential to transform the way we work and socialise. It might further blur the lines between mobile and single location devices and networks. But it is also inevitable.

All new mobile devices will eventually include 5G connectivity, leaving the non-tech savvy to only notice a change when they upgrade their phone and see 5G instead of 4G. 

What is 5G? 

As the name suggests, 5G will be the 5th generation of mobile network technologies, like 4G and 3G before it.

New mobile technologies are currently in development and testing to replace 4G, but technically 5G does not formally exist as a standard yet. Despite this, we do have an idea of how 5G will work and how it may impact the way we use mobile devices. 

There are also examples of false 5G claims. In the U.S., mobile operator AT&T attempted to brand a 4G network upgrade as '5G Evolution'. The marketing campaign was a highly misleading attempt to promote "5G" and was met with widespread ridicule. While it has arguably kick-started the current conversation about the new mobile network standard, it has also led many to believe they can access 5G sooner than they can in reality. 

How will 5G be defined?

Each generation (3G, 4G, 5G) is a technology standard, as opposed to a single type of technology. Multiple technologies that can fall under a generation. For example, 4G includes the specific technology named LTE. But lesser known technologies, like WiMAX, are also of the 4G standard. 

This is why some 4G phones can work well on one mobile network, but poorly or not at all on another. This can be seen more overseas and was more prevalent in Australia when 3G was the highest network standard.

To create a new generation, or standard, of mobile technology, the new technology generally must

  1. Significantly improve data transfer speeds; and,
  2. The new generation of technology is incompatible with the previous generation.

For now, the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) have not defined the new standard for 5G. However individual technologies are in development and some networks may be built as candidates to demonstrate their suitability to be a primary 5G technology (like LTE).  

What will 5G look like?

While 5G is yet to be finalised and won't be for several years, we do have an idea what it will include. The consortium tasked with defining the standard has laid out several key goals it hopes the technology will meet:

  • Data rates of tens of megabits per second for tens of thousands of users,
  • Data rates of 100 megabits per second for metropolitan areas,
  • 1 Gb per second simultaneously to many workers on the same office floor,
  • Several hundreds of thousands of simultaneous connections for wireless sensors,
  • Spectral efficiency significantly enhanced compared to 4G,
  • Coverage improved,
  • Signalling efficiency enhanced,
  • Latency reduced significantly compared to LTE.

Essentially they are hoping 5G can offer more responsive networks and faster speeds with significantly more devices connected at any one time. These goals above are broad and will need to be specifically defined when the standard is finalised, likely in 2019-2020.

Where next for 5G?

The groundwork for 5G's eventual implementation in Australia is now under way. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) started a community consultation process on the 5G roll-out last November. The consultation is concerned with which broadcasting band(s) the 5G network will be able to operate. The general consensus is 5G will operate on the 3.6Ghz and eventually 1.5Ghz bands

Telstra is laying the groundwork for a future 5G network by getting involved directly. The telco is working with the Ericsson research lab in Sweden to better understand how 5G will be standardised, and help define the standard itself. Telstra is paying close attention to which bands will be suitable for use in Australia. 

What should firms consider now? 

First, 5G still isn't defined. Second, given the time it will take for 5G networks to mature after the standard is defined, there is little you should be considering now. 4G is widespread and new devices use less power than even 2-3 years ago. Given the 2-4 year life cycle of mobile devices, 5G isn't a significant consideration at this point. 

It's recommended that any claim of a 5G network or speeds before 2020 should be met with serious scepticism. Such claims are more than likely simply promoting a speed boost to an already existing 4G network. Otherwise they may be promoting a 5G candidate technology, that may not meet the eventual 5G standard.

Keen tech enthusiasts will learn more about what the final 5G standard will be over the next two-to-three years. Law firms can look at the broad goals that 5G will hope to achieve. They raise some serious questions on how future legal practitioners may operate. Should they consider a laptop with 4G/5G connectivity? Can increased mobility allow for a more flexible workplace, leading to a lesser demand on office space? Are desktop computers going to be less prevalent in offices? 5G may present a real opportunity for law firms to benefit from these questions.

Find out more about Sentrian Legal here, or learn more about technology that will impact the legal professional from the first of our series, Legal Tech: What is blockchain?

Further Resources

The race to 5G: Inside the fight for the future of mobile as we know it, TechRepublic - Jo Best
What is 5G?, PCMagazine - Sascha Segan
Options for 5G mobile broadband spectrum, ACMA
What's going to happen with Australia's '5G band', Gizmodo - Rae Johnston


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