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Last updated: 22:38

How the 5G Rollout will Transform your Commute in 2020


By Ortis Deley | Published on 12 April 2019

As a Line Resident for Great Northern, I’ve been lucky enough to have taken some great trips across the network, allowing me to catch-up on some news relating to what’s going on in the world of technology. I discovered that Google recently made a big announcement: they are entering the gaming arena, traditionally dominated by Microsoft and Sony, with a product called Stadia.

Google believe that by storing games on massive, supercooled remote servers instead of on consoles in living rooms, the scope for playing more resource-intensive games is increased manifold. While this is great on paper, as Google has the resource to do this, what they do not have currently is the ability to provide a network to support it – such as 5G.

At the moment, networks in the UK aren’t the greatest as there isn’t parity nationwide. They can come with slow Wi-Fi and routers that bottleneck large data streams. So it would seem Google’s dream is impossible here. Or is it?

In the last decade or so we have become very data hungry – uploading pictures, streaming music and watching videos on the move - just look around on your commute. It’s a good thing 4G is available to allow streaming of most things. But often, with so many others wanting the same thing, there just isn’t enough data to go around.

Step forward 5G! When you’re sat in a packed stadium and you want your mum to hear her favourite song, or you’re at a festival and need to show your brother, live, what he’s missing, 5G is promising to take care of that. No more buffering, waiting or organising downloads in strong Wi-Fi areas.

So, what is 5G? It’s the fifth generation of cellular telecommunication. It promises faster download/upload speeds, more widespread coverage and more stable connections, i.e. less dropout.

Everything we now do on our smartphones will become quicker; imagine being able to download a HD movie on-the-go in just one minute!

It is projected that 5G will be up to 20x faster than 4G, which isn’t too shabby. Not only will our smart devices work slicker, but 5G will enable other technologies to up their game:

  • Autonomous travel will be a huge step closer, thanks to huge real-time data transfer possibilities (train or traffic updates, map-reading, communication between travel pods, etc)
  • Gaming – with a reported latency of just 1ms, and larger gaming universes possible via streaming, expect to see even more button-bashing going on your journeys
  • The Internet of Things will become ubiquitous with absolutely every device capable of being ‘smart’, from dishwashers to bins, advertisement hoardings to fitting rooms
  • Reduced latency could also see an increase in remote surgery

EE has recently announced it is installing 5G antennae for testing in key locations across London, as well as other major cities. As a Line Resident for Great Northern, I was thrilled to learn one of these antennae is currently being tested in Old Street – reachable via Great Northern trains - and I was fortunate enough to be allowed a visit. It’s always exciting to see what technology is about to be rolled out for use by the masses and my trip on the mysterious, non-Underground underground is a blog post in itself (it’s nuts! – Google it).

UK mobile network, EE, aims to be the UK’s first provider to offer consumers and businesses 5G, and they have learnt a great deal through their first trial – from obtaining planning permission and access agreements, through to managing power outputs – all to manage the demand for faster data. This trial will go on to assess the customer experience of the new 5G spectrum and expects to be rolled out nationwide by 2020.

With all this future-proofing of the nation’s infrastructure taking place, how will our transport networks keep up? Great Northern has now launched its brand new Class 717 fleet of trains, which operate on the afore-mentioned Northern City Line, and these trains include Wi-Fi for passengers. With Great Northern’s new “superfleet” – the first new trains on the underground Moorgate branch in 40 years – Wi-Fi will come as standard on the above-ground sections of the route, as well and plug sockets for charging devices such as phones and laptops.

As these technology developments keep coming faster than ever, I can’t help but think back to a time when having a device while travelling meant I was blessed enough to own a Walkman! Such an item couldn’t be used to plan a journey, only ease it, nor could it be used to alert someone that you were running late. In fact, a journey across London could become quite the mission! If you’d arranged to meet someone at an agreed time, you’d try your best to get there as punctually as possible. But if you severely underestimated the trip and ended up over an hour late for a date? Not a great start…

Nowadays, people can now enjoy a journey in real time. The Information Age has meant that you’d better have a cast iron reason for not sharing why you aren’t on time. Everyone is connected and everywhere you look, you’ll see people interacting with their smartphones. Nowhere is this more evident than on a busy commuter train; pretty much everyone on the carriage is bent at the neck, ingesting content from their screens.

So, with brands like Google, EE and Great Northern all working to deliver this incredible, superfast and unlimited data streams within the next 12 months, what’s next? Watch this space.