Do you ever stop to think about the impact broadband has had on our lives?
I remember watching one of the first broadband demonstrations on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and being amazed.
Actually, that’s a lie. Its demonstration wasn’t all that impressive. But what the technology ended up being certainly was.
Broadband ushered in a whole new world of connectivity. Whole new business models and services we couldn’t have imagined having before it came along.
Before broadband you wouldn’t dream of streaming video over the internet. You couldn’t even stream a song. Webpages took minutes to load and were full of pixelated content.
Today we stream films in ultra-high definition and make life-like video calls across the world without a second thought.
The reason I’m bringing it up is because we’re about to see another broadband revolution. And this one promises to be every bit as revolutionary as the last one. Perhaps even more so.
That’s because this second broadband revolution will take place on not on our home computers, but on our mobile phones.
Here’s how it will happen.
Future oil isn’t sitting in the ground. It’s floating in the sky
That’s what Ericsson’s chief technology officer, Ulf Ewaldsson, believes, at least.
Not only that, but he states that “future oil” is “the scarcest resource on the planet”.
The future oil he’s talking about are the different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.
We rely on these different wavelengths for all our wireless communications, from FM radio at the long end, up to Wi-Fi and mobile phones at the short end.
But there is only so much space available on the spectrum. Much of it is already taken, so that means we need to start using shorter and shorter wavelengths.
With every new frequency we harness, we get clearer communications, and faster data. The next frequency is about to be unlocked, and it’s going to have a huge impact on the way we live.
I say live, because it will change not just business, but home life and our entire culture too – and it isn’t really being talked about.
By 2020 your phone’s internet will be 100 times as fast as it is today
In the beginning, we could only harness the longest wavelengths for communication – think FM ratio. Then as technology advanced, we learned to use shorter and shorter waves.
With each step up the frequency ladder, our communications became faster. The change from basic mobile phones up to 3G and now 4G sneaked up on many people.
But the shift to the next generation – 5G networks – is going to change everything.
The 5G network standards have been drawn up, and it’s already well into trials. The release date it set for 2020, but it may even come before then, with many companies pushing for an early release.
The network speed of 5G will be around 10 gigabits per second. To put that into perspective, it’s 100 times as fast as 4G. And it’s around 20 times faster than your home broadband is today.
What it means in reality is that you’ll be able to download a full HD film in around three seconds.
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If your mobile phone has a 32GB hard drive, you’d be able to download enough data to completely fill it in less than 30 seconds.
With speeds like this, we’ll become even more reliant on cloud storage. After all, why have all those files clogging up your phone or laptop when you can download anything you want almost instantly?
And home broadband could go the way of the landline telephone.
The price of home broadband right now is a complete rip-off. I currently pay around £32 a month for Virgin fibre optic. It’s not that fast and not that reliable.
I pay £21 for my phone contract that comes with unlimited data and tethering. The second 5G comes I’ll be cancelling my broadband subscription. And I’m sure many, many others will too.
When you can simply use your mobile as a Wi-Fi hotspot that’s 20 times faster than your expensive broadband deal, why would you bother with home broadband at all? (Providing you live in a 5G area.)
But the benefits of 5G go well beyond mobile phones and home internet. It’s in the driverless car field that 5G is really going to make a difference. In fact, we won’t be able to have a functioning network of driverless cars without it.
5G is essential for driverless cars
Latency is the delay it takes for networks to communicate with each other. So say you click a link on a website, the time the network takes to respond to that click and start loading the webpage is the latency.
If you have a very fast connection, but a high latency, your internet will seem slow. Skype conversations will be out of sync, for example. And webpages will take a long time to load.
As you can probably imagine, latency is a huge problem for driverless cars. They need to communicate with the network and one another in real. If they don’t, accidents will happen.
The big breakthrough of 5G is its latency. Current 4G networks have a latency of around 50 to 80 milliseconds. This is just too slow, and could lead to major issues in traffic. 5G has a latency of just 1 millisecond.
And what’s more, 5G will allow over 1 million devices to use the network per square km. So even when the network is highly congested, communication between cars won’t suffer.
More data means more trust
Of course, all this increased connectivity does have a downside. The more data we hand over to the cloud, and the tech giants that run it, the less control we have over it ourselves.
There’s already a backlash against the likes of Facebook and Google using our private data for their own purposes.
What happens when the tech firms own data on all our travel habits, as well as all our personal files, and all of our communications?
That’s a lot of information to be handing over. Even if you trust these firms not to use your data for nefarious purposes (or maybe you just don’t care), what if they get hacked?
Well, that’s where… you guessed it… cryptos come in.
The idea of decentralising data is one of the main themes of crypto. It allows you to retain complete control of tour own data, while still benefiting from the cloud.
I’m sure if you’re a regular reader you’ll have noticed how much I talk about cryptos. But that’s because when you dig deep enough into almost any of today’s biggest tech trends and stories, you inevitably find crypto right in the centre.
For the amount of personal data we will be sending over 5G networks, a system to keep it private is essential. And cryptos like Enigma and IOTA could prove to be the perfect solution for this growing problem.
Of course, all crypto technology is still in its very early stages, and it has a lot to prove over the next few years. But it potentially promises to solve the biggest data troubles of today – and tomorrow.
Even if it doesn’t, at least we’ll be able to stop shelling out for home broadband in 2020.
Editor, Exponential Investor
PS Thanks for your suggestions on sci-fi books. I’m definitely going to be reading a few of them.