5G is expected to have a transformative effect on digital connectivity and power the rise of IoT devices, driverless cars, data transfer and the consumer tech of the future.
Therefore, the appetite for equipment and services around 5G is also expected to rise globally. Research from Barclays finds that 5G could even supercharge the UK economy by up to £15.7 billion a year by 2025.
However, 2020 has thrown a considerable spanner into the works: the global economic damage associated with the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, there are now even vigilante efforts to burn down 5G masts due to conspiracy theories that claim they are linked to the virus. So there are likely delays ahead in the deployment of 5G along the way.
Here’s our history of the development of the mobile wireless standard, from the 1979 launch of 1G in Japan, to the impending launch of 5G in the UK.
Read next: Companies developing 5G in the UK
1984 – The first generation
Initially launched in 1979 in Tokyo, by 1984 the first generation (1G) of the wireless standard was rolled out across the whole of Japan by the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.
In 1983, the US launched its first 1G network using the Motorola DynaTAC mobile phone, with other countries such as the UK and Canada following suit a few years later.
1991 – The second generation
Commercially launched on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard in Finland in 1991, 2G brought a wireless standard far superior from anything that the first generation had on offer.
With significantly better wireless connections, 2G provided data services for mobile including SMS text messages and digitally encrypted conversations for the very first time.
Major benefits in the second standard could be seen in the quality of digital voice calls, with a significant reduction in static noise and background crackling.
But even more importantly, 2G made way for a huge cultural shift. Text messages, picture messages, and multimedia messages (MMS) were made possible, creating a whole new way for people to communicate.
This change to a digital system meant that a smaller amount of radio signals were emitted from the handset, meaning that the range of the phone grew smaller, resulting in a need for more mobile cell towers in a smaller vicinity.
This led to a change in the UK’s landscape, with mobile cell towers peppering the UK topography.
2001 – The third generation
First launched in May 2001 for pre-release testing, as with previous generations 3G was available in Japan first, in October 2001.
Foreshadowing the current worries about 5G and the delays in a full roll-out of the 4G network, 3G was released in 2003 in the UK, however there were delays due to the availability of 3G enabled handsets.
Hutchison Whampoa, which owns the mobile network Three, launched in 2003 and provided one of the first 3G handsets, although they came at a price: £400 to be exact, quite a hefty price tag for the time.
According to the BBC, at the time Hutchinson Whampoa said its phones could be used for ‘video conferencing and clips from football matches.’
As the second generation did to the first, 3G offered a superior level of connection than its predecessor 2G.
3G users were able to use location-based services, watch mobile TV, participate in video conferencing and watch videos on demand.
2012 – The fourth generation
4G was first introduced to the UK in 2012, with EE rolling out its 4G services to 11 major cities including London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Southampton.
At the time of its launch, EE said that its 4G network would offer speeds up to 12Mbps, five times faster than the previous generation.
However, 4G has come in for criticism as UK residents complain about the lack of 4G coverage across the UK.
According to the mobile data platform Ogury, UK residents can only access 4G networks 53 percent of the time, making the UK the worst place for 4G coverage in Europe, falling behind both Spain and Italy.
But for those UK residents that do use 4G, this standard offers fast mobile web access, gaming services, high-definition videos and TV support and high-quality video conferencing.
The fifth generation – the early days
Although 5G isn’t a commercially available mobile network yet, it is pegged to be considerably faster than its predecessor 4G, and has potential to enable big data industries such as the internet of things and smart homes or cities.
5G is said to offer unlimited data quantities in gigabyte per month and user which could enable users to stream high volumes of high-definition media on their internet enabled device.
In 2008 South Korea developed an R&D program looking at 5G mobile communication systems. Four years later in August 2012, New York University founded NYU WIRELESS, a research centre designed to carry out detailed work on the 5G wireless network.
Closer to home, the EU project Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty Information Society or METIS was created in 2012. Its aim was to research and work towards a working definition of 5G.
Around the same time, the European Commission cofunded the iJOIN EU project that aims to focus on ‘small cell technology’ which is vital part of 5G technologies.
2013 – Samsung and Huawei announce plans to invest in 5G development
In May 2013, Samsung announced that it had created a 5G network and according to Forbes, Samsung intends to sell 10 trillion won (US £7 billion) worth of 5G network equipment by 2022.
In November 2013, Huawei pledged to invest in the testing and development of 5G networks by 2018. The planned $600 million is to be used to research how the next 5G can handle higher data volumes and transmission speeds.
2016 – Google plans to develop a 5G network
In January 2016, The Guardian revealed that Google is developing a 5G network called SkyBender. This is a 5G project aiming to provide 5G connections via solar-powered drones, which according to various reports could see millimetre wave technology used to transmit gigabits of data every second at speeds up to 40 times faster than modern 4G LTE.
2016 – Verizon starts testing 5G
After a field test of 5G in 2015, Verizon announced that it was starting 5G testing in real-life situations in February 2016.
These tests will monitor 5G inside buildings and according to reports involve ‘a special truck marked “Samsung 5G” on the side’.
These tests are in collaboration with Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Samsung, and Qualcomm.
2016 – BT and Nokia partner to create flexible 5G
Announced in August 2016, both companies will work together on the creation of ‘5G Proof of Concept trials’, the development of a 5G standard and potential use cases for 5G.
One of the main goals of the partnership will be creating flexible mobile networks that take into account customer needs and are flexible towards the connectivity users want.
2016 – Samsung and SK Telecom
In September 2015, SK Telecom and Samsung announced that they’d successfully completed a handover test between outdoor 5G base stations at 28GHz.
A handover test monitors the wireless connection and reports on any disruption in connectivity found when moving between base stations.
Samsung and SK Telecom (one of South Korea’s largest telecom firms) tests have successfully kept seamless connectivity over 5FG networks and base stations.
“Through our demonstration of handover between mmWave 5G base stations, we have realised a network environment that is the closest by far to the real 5G network to be created in the future,” said Cheun Kyungwhoon, EVP and head of Next-Generation Business Team at Samsung.
2016 – Qualcomm announces the first 5G modem
In October 2016, Qualcomm announced that it had created the first 5G modem: the Snapdragon X50.
The chipmaker claims that the Snapdragon X50 can support download speeds up to 5Gbps, beating that of the current wireless standard that stands on average at 28Mbps (in the UK), according to Opensignal.
2016 – BT and Huawei create 5G research partnership
In December 2016, BT and Huawei announced that they would join in partnership to ‘lead the global development of 5G mobile technologies’.
Working together in BT’s Ipswich lab (and other global locations) the partnership will involve research on how the faster mobile standard could be used, 5G deployment strategies and the development and standardised 5G technologies.
The partnership will also focus on IoT and machine-to-machine communications.
2016 – 5G emulator built in Basingstoke
In December 2016, a 5G emulator was opened at the Basing View innovation hub in Basingstoke. Its purpose is to enable local businesses to access the latest and fastest internet network, 5G.
The emulator will work with the University of Surrey, which already has a well-established relationship with the government’s 5G strategy.
2016 – Huawei and DOCOMO Conduct World’s First 5G Large Scale Field Trial
Huawei and DOCOMO (a Japanese mobile network) teamed up in December 2016 to conducted the world’s first 5G large-scale field trial.
Using the 4.5 GHz frequency band, both companies recorded data transfer speeds of 11.29 Gbps, which is about 40 times faster than the current 4G standard.
February 2017 – Ericsson created the first 5G platform
In February 2017, Ericsson introduced the first 5G platform offering end-to-end support for the fifth generation wireless network.
This includes providing the ‘market’s first complete 5G radio system, the first version of an E2E Core network capable of 5G use cases based on network slices and a 5G core network which can now be connected to 5G NR radio’.
Over the past few years Ericsson has been testing our possible 5G capabilities, with Ericsson beginning field testing in 2015.
February 2017 – Samsung develops 5G RF Integrated Circuit (RFIC)
On the 19th February 2017, Samsung announced it has developed a 5G RF Integrated Circuit (RFIC), a chip that it says should enable the commercial deployment of the 5G network as soon as 2018.
Samsung believes this technology could offer those using its 5G network data transfer speeds of 20Gbps, produce clear radio signals and provide a low cost 5G wireless connection.
“Samsung has been hard at work for several years on the various foundation technologies that go into the 5G RFIC,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, Executive Vice President at Samsung Electronics in a blog post.
“We’re excited to finally bring all the pieces together and announce this important milestone on the path to commercial 5G. This will have a big role to play in the upcoming connectivity revolution,” he added.
February 2017 – Samsung announces new 5G home router
Speaking at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona yesterday, Samsung revealed that it has created a new 5G-enabled home router, which will be capable of speeds of up to 1Gbps, similar to speeds of other 5G infrastructure.
With trials of Samsung’s 5G devices starting this year, commercial use could come sooner than first expected, although Samsung has not provided any time frame for a full roll-out.
February 2017 – Nokia launches ‘5G First’
Revealed at MWC this year, Nokia launched an end-to-end 5G product for mobile carriers, called 5G First.
5G First will support mobile carriers by providing Nokia’s own Airscale cloud RAN and its AirScale massive MIMO adaptive antennas for the 3.5GHz, 4.5GHz, 28GHz, and 39GHz frequency bands.
This announcement adds to the long list of 5G initiatives involving Nokia including a partnership with Samsung to test 5G and BT to create ‘flexible 5G’.
Budget 2017 – £16 million to create a 5G hub
Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed the Budget 2017 on 8 March. He pledged £16 million to create a 5G hub to trial forthcoming mobile data technology.
This plan may seem a little rushed given the UK’s roll-out of 4G is still considered patchy.
Hammond also pledged £200 million to implement local fibre broadband networks, with a further £270 million going towards emerging technology such as robotics, biotech and driverless cars.
May 2017 – Wales to receive £38 million for 5G development
A new technology hub in Newport, Wales is set to receive £38 million to make compound semiconductors, which support the technology behind robotics, 5G and driverless cars.
The hub – which is funded by the 10 councils in the Cardiff Capital Region of Wales – could create about 2,000 high skilled jobs in five years and mark Wales as a world leader in 5G technologies.
This news follows a £12 million investment from the Welsh Government in November 2015 aimed at helping to make Newport a global technology centre.
October 2017 – Qualcomm create working 5G modem chip
At its 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong, Qualcomm announced that it had created a working 5G modem chip to be released in 2019.
The chipmaker revealed that it had achieved a 5G connection on a 5G modem connection for mobile devices, delivering gigabit speeds and a data connection in the 28GHz mmWave radio frequency band.
Qualcomm also showcased its first 5G smartphone reference design, which will be used for testing and optimising 5G technology.
October 2017 – Verizon, Qualcomm and Novatel Wireless announce 5G collaboration
Verizon, Qualcomm and Novatel Wireless are joining forces to develop 5G New Radio (NR) millimetre-wave technology and to help speed up its adoption and support a full-scale commercial network deployment before the end of the decade.
The companies plan to focus on the 5G NR operation in 28 GHz and 39 GHz mmWave spectrum bands which could prove vital in delivering high-definition video, VR, AR and fully connected cloud computing.
October 2017 – The City of London is preparing to carry out trials of 5G
The City of London turned on its district-wide public Wi-Fi network, consisting of 400 small cell transmitters.
Now, The City of London is planning on carrying out 5G trials on that network.
“As the first borough able to commit to such a comprehensive deployment of “small cells” – transmitters capable of boosting mobile capacity – we are at the forefront of delivering cutting edge digital infrastructure,” said policy chairperson Catherine McGuinness.
November 2017 – EE trials end-to-end 5G network
BT Group network provider EE rolled out an end-to-end 5G test in November 2017. The test was carried out with a download speed of 2.8Gbps at its UK mobile lab.
It was rolled out in partnership with Huawei and linked the 5G core to a 64×64 Massive MIMO (multiple-input-multiple-output) active antenna unit broadcasting 5G New Radio to deliver high speeds.
December 2017 – First live UK 5G test
In December 2017, network providers Ericsson and Vodafone UK carried out a standalone pre-standard 5G test in partnership with King’s College London.
The test was delivered using a prototype device in a central London 35GHz spectrum field trial, making it the first live 5G test in the UK.
This test experimented with a selection of different mobile spectrums to increase capacity and data speeds using Massive MIMO technology.
Vodafone UK will continue testing 5G and look to provide better services for both consumers and businesses.
“Right now, we’re also modernising our network by making smarter use of our existing mobile technology to keep ahead of consumption demands and provide the mobile coverage our customers deserve,” Kye Prigg, head of networks at Vodafone UK said in a statement.
February 2018 – BT Group and Huawei strike 5G partnership
BT Group and Huawei confirmed a signed agreement in February 2018 to extend their strategic partnership.
The partnership includes the development and live trial of 5G New Radio (NR), core network technology and 5G customer premises equipment (CPEs).
BT and Huawei showcased the first 5G UL/ DL decoupling proof of concept live in London at Huawei’s Global Broadband Forum.
“Our 5G research has been has been hugely promising, and this partnership with Huawei will turn that research into reality,” said Howard Watson, CTIO of BT Group in a statement. “The EE network is already the UK leader for speed and coverage, and with the weight of BT’s R&D and partnerships we can ensure that leadership continues with the introduction a world class 5G experience.
“Huawei has helped us drive the evolution of the EE 4G network, and they are the ideal partner to help us push the barriers of 5G.”
March 2018 – Government begins seach for a UK 5G city of the future
The UK government announced on 30 March 2018 that it plans to create a ‘5G city’ in a multi-million pound trial that would pave the way for a future nationwide rollout of 5G.
DCMS is seeking expressions of interest from local or combined authorities with a coverage area in the region of 500,000 people who want to participate in the project.
Funding for will come from the £200 million assigned so far to develop 5G technologies. The winning bid is expected to trial a variety of initiatives for urban citizens, from supporting video consultations by doctors to improving traffic management.
The government aims to select a location in the summer of 2018. The urban project will be followed a large-scale Rural Connected Communities Project.
The proposals are part of the Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme.
September 2018 – UK Government confirms West Midlands as first 5G test bed
The UK government announced that the West Midlands will become the first multi-city 5G testbed.
This will include a multi-million pound trial of new high-speed connectivity, which is expected to pave the way for the future of 5G in the UK.
The Urban Connected Communities Project – another addition to the government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme – will develop a large-scale 5G pilot with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.
A total investment of £50 million is currently available for the project with £25 million coming from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and a remaining £25 million from regional partners.
According to the government, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials team at the DCMS and industry partners to undertake the first of a series of projects expected to go live in 2019.
These include remote hospital outpatient appointments, connected ambulances and intelligent CCTV cameras using AI.
In a statement, Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands said: “This announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy. This will be the backbone of our future economy and society.
April 2019 – UK authorises Huawei to help build 5G network
Prime minister Theresa May has given Huawei the green light to supply some “non-core” technology, such as antennas, for the UK’s 5G infrastructure, following a meeting of the National Security Council.
However, the telecoms giant has been blocked from supplying core parts of the network, days after The Times reported that the CIA had warned the UK and its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that Huawei has received funding from Chinese state security.
The Telegraph claimed that cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Gavin Williamson, Liam Fox and Penny Mourdant had all raised concerns about the decision. Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, joined them in questioning the wisdom of the move.
“Allowing Huawei into the UK’s 5G infrastructure would cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential to #FiveEyes cooperation,” the Conservative MP wrote in a tweet. “There’s a reason others have said no.”
Huawei, which already supplies much of the technology used in the UK’s 5G infrastructure and has consistently refuted accusations that it’s controlled by the Chinese government, welcomed the decision.
It said: “While we await a formal government announcement, we are pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work and we will continue to work cooperatively with the government, and the industry.”
May 2019 – 5G roll out could be delayed due to security concerns, warns culture secretary
Culture secretary Jeremy Wright warned that the rollout of 5G in the UK could be delayed if the government chooses to place restrictions on equipment supplied by controversial Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
“There is certainly the possibility of a delay in the process of the rollout of 5G,” Wright said in response to questions during a parliamentary committee. “If you want to do 5G fastest then you do that without any consideration for security. We’re not prepared to do that. So I don’t exclude the possibility that there will be some delay.”
The future of Huawei’s involvement in UK’s 5G networks will depend on the outcome of a telecom supply chain review, which Wright said would take place “not long from now.”
Jake Moore, security specialist at cyber security firm ESET, offered his support for Wright’s decision
“If 5G networks communicate our actions to an outside observer secretly, it could be devastating for civil liberties in the UK,” he said. “It seems sensible therefore that every protective measure is taken by the government. Even with the best will in the world, our threat intelligence sees attempted hacks on hardware millions of times every single day, so it pays to be cautious.”
May 2019 – EE becomes first UK carrier to launch 5G
In May 2019, EE became the UK’s first network provider to launch its 5G network by rolling out in six cities by the end of the month.
By the end of 2019, it had switched on across 50 UK towns and cities such as London, Edinburgh and Birmingham.
“Whether on the street, in a stadium or on location, 5G provides a new dimension that can deliver the speed, efficiency and reliability that outside broadcasting requires,” said Alex Tempest, MD wholesale at BT in a statement.
July 2019 – Vodafone switches on 5G
Vodafone became the UK’s second provider to switch on its 5G network. Launching in seven cities, the network provider also launched in an additional 12 cities by the end of 2019 including Birmingham, Bristol and London.
With a number of partnerships also announced, Vodafone has committed to relying on Huawei’s equipment such as the Huawei Mate X smartphone and 5G Gigacube home router.
October 2019 – Additional providers launch 5G network
BT and O2 launched their 5G networks in October 2019. O2 began its rollout by switching on 5G in six UK cities including London, Belfast and Cardiff.
It also plans to have its network live in a total of 20 towns and cities by the end of 2020.
BT, on the other hand, was able to switch on its network in 20 UK towns and cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and London. Its initial launch prioritised BT Plus and Business customers.
Marc Allera, CEO for BT’s consumer division said in a statement: “BT Plus is the UK’s first converged fibre and mobile plan and comes with BT’s Keep Connected Promise.
“If a BT Plus customer reports a fault with their home broadband, BT will switch on free, unlimited data on their BT mobiles within an hour and will also send a free 4G Wi-Fi Mini Hub to arrive the next day, with unlimited data to keep customers connected at home while their broadband is repaired. BT Plus customers also benefit from 24/7 dedicated UK and Ireland support.”
January 2020 – UK government allows use of Huawei equipment on 5G networks
Following an ongoing delay due to controversies surrounding Huawei led by the American government, Britain finally announced its decision to allow Huawei equipment to be used within the UK’s 5G networks.
But this decision came with some restrictions: the government officially banned Huawei from supplying its kit to sensitive ‘core’ parts of the network.
Despite the pressure the government faced from President Trump and his US counterparts to keep Huawei out of the network based on security risks, the UK’s decision means Huawei can supply 35 percent of its kit.
“Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G rollout on track,” the firm’s UK chief Victor Zhang said in a statement.
“It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”
March 2020 – Samsung launches first 5G smartphone
On March 6, 2020 Samsung announced the launch of its Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone, the first all-5G smartphone.
Although only currently available in the US, the phone manufacturer plans to release its smartphone in the UK and other countries by the end of the year.