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Once upon a time, 5G was just a daydream – an unimaginable mobile technology that was set to revolutionise how we live. But now it’s here, and it’s growing every day

By Virgin TV Edit

A few years ago, when tech writers were contextualising the potential of mobile internet, a familiar analogy was peddled out. 3G was a country lane and 4G was a motorway – the broader the channel, the quicker more data could travel down it. So, if we’re extending this metaphor into the current day, what is 5G?


On paper, 5G has the potential to be 100 times faster than 4G, but they don’t make roads that wide. Maybe it’s like gunning a speedboat down the widest section of the Amazon… 


How much faster is 5G than 4G?


To put some meat on the bones of this, the download speeds of these technologies are measured in megabits, which is different to megabytes – there are eight megabits (Mb) in a megabyte (MB). And where 4G has the potential to download 150Mbps (megabits per second), 5G could do 1Gbps (gigabits per second) – that’s a thousand megabits. The real-life application of this means you could download a Full HD, Blu-ray quality film in two minutes.  


What does 5G mean for gaming and VR?

But it’s not all about films, it’s big news for the future of gaming, too. Basically, it all comes down to something called latency – the responsiveness in which one thing can talk to, and be understood by, another thing. A lower latency will mean smoother gameplay, less lag, and better graphics. Which opens up loads of possibilities for virtual and augmented reality. 


If you’re an early adopter of the likes of HTC Vive or Sony’s PlayStation VR, you’re probably still wired up to your console and reliant on your home broadband. As 5G continues to develop, there won’t be a requirement for loads of wires and leads, which means more immersive experiences. AR, which is designed to be wireless, layers graphics over the real world, and would benefit hugely from this when taken out into the world. 


Imagine wearing a pair of glasses that layered directions right in front of your eyes, offered repair instructions that sit directly over the thing you’re trying to fix, or brought the characters in your favourite book to life – springing right off the page. This is where we’re heading. 


How long does it take to download stuff with 5G?


So, we know 5G is considerably quicker than 4G, but just how much faster – that’s the question. The rate in which you can download content, likes songs or video, will depend on a few different things, most importantly if there’s a 5G mast nearby. It will also depend on how busy that mast is, because if it’s serving a Waterloo-sized train station at rush hour, it’s certainly going to slow down.  


Were we to assume it’s just you in the 5G-ready train station, you could potentially download an album (70MB) or an episode of something (350MB) in a matter of seconds. 


What will happen to 4G when 5G is universal?


Absolutely nothing will happen to 4G – it’s not going anywhere. Just like when you’re in a rural area now and your phone tells you it’s dropped down to a 3G network or – God forbid – H+ (which is basically 2G), the very same will happen when we’ve all got 5G.


Does 5G use more data than 4G?


Technically no – quicker downloads won’t use up more data, 5G is just the next step in the evolution of network connectivity. But – and it’s a big but – it’s likely we will use more data when we begin taking advantage of the quicker speeds. 


Broadly speaking, you probably wouldn’t try to download an entire feature-length film when you’re out and about – you’d do it at home before leaving the house. But when it can be done in a few minutes, you’d probably be more inclined to give it a go. So, when we start downloading massive files, it’s then that data usage will increase. 


What does 5G mean for streaming?

When it comes to enjoying 5G on mobile, watching your favourite stuff on demand is only going to get better. The latest films, series, and sporting events are being filmed with higher quality equipment, for more detail in every shot. So, whether you’re tuning into the match on the train, or catching up on the latest drama on your way to work, you’ll be able to enjoy them in sparkling UHD without any spinny buffering wheels. 


Which devices are 5G-ready?


More and more smartphones are coming off the assembly line 5G-ready nowadays. Why now check out our Virgin Mobile site, and feast your eyes on our 5G-ready phones, including iPhone 12Samsung Galaxy S20 FESamsung Galaxy S21 UltraSony Xperia 5 II, and the Oppo Find X3 Pro, to name just a few. 


Where is 5G available in the UK? 


At the moment, Virgin Media offer 5G coverage in over 100 towns and cities across the UK (with many more to come) including: Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Reading and Southampton. 


To find out more about your area, if it’s no listed above, have a play with our 5G coverage checker, by following the link.  And if you’d like to find out more about 5G contracts, SIMs and smartphones, click here and get ready for the best mobile you’ve ever had

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