David Cameron Joins Crowded 5G Bandwagon With Samsung, Taiwan and Others

Photographer: Nigel Treblin/Getty Images

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the 2014 CeBIT technology Trade fair on March 10, 2014 in Hanover, Germany. CeBIT is the world's largest technology fair and this year's partner nation is Great Britain. Close

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech next to German Chancellor Angela... Read More

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Photographer: Nigel Treblin/Getty Images

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the 2014 CeBIT technology Trade fair on March 10, 2014 in Hanover, Germany. CeBIT is the world's largest technology fair and this year's partner nation is Great Britain.

The U.K. didn't get its first 4G network until last year, but Prime Minister David Cameron is already talking about 5G. He took to the stage at the CeBIT conference in Hanover, Germany, to announce plans to develop a 5G mobile-data network that can download a movie in less than a second.

You know 5G has established itself as a mainstream concept when politicians such as Cameron are gushing about it. As part of his government's 45 million pound ($75 million) investment for research into 5G and the so-called Internet of Things, British and German universities will team up on the initiative.

Cameron is not the first to promise he'll deliver fifth-generation network technology to the masses. At least five other governments and companies have touted their 5G projects.

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The South Korean government said in January that it would spend 1.6 trillion won ($1.5 billion) to deploy 5G service. The government promised a movie download would take one second. (Too slow, if you ask Cameron.) South Korea's plan calls for a trial starting in 2017 and a full rollout by December 2020.

That seems to be the magic year for 5G. South Korea's Samsung predicted that its 5G technology would be ready by 2020. Huawei Technologies, the Chinese electronics maker, also said last year that its 5G network will be ready for commercial service by that year, with speeds 100 times faster than current 4G networks.

Taiwan's government said it's tapping into money from last year's 4G spectrum-license auction to fund 5G development, according to the China Post. The three-year budget plan allocates NT$15 billion ($495 million) to the initiative, the newspaper reported.

Before 4G networks, there were several incompatible cellular technologies in use throughout the world. These are still operating today, carrying some phone calls and text messages, and making sure older phones continue to work.

With long-term evolution, or LTE, most telecoms are adopting one standard, meaning the same iPhone could one day be used almost anywhere. The industry is expected to continue to align around a single technology for 5G, Ross Rubin, principal analyst at consulting firm Reticle Research, said in an interview.

There can only be one winner, and right now, the field is wide open, Rubin said. "As of now, there's really no uniform notion of what a 5G wireless standard would look like," he said.

Even among the same folks, there are separate schemes. The European Union, which counts the U.K. and Germany as members, is working on its own 5G project. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, is planning to bring 5G services to the market by — you guessed it — 2020.

It's encouraging to have so many groups contributing to 5G research, but they'll eventually have to get together at a standardization body, such as the GSM Association, to plead their case and find a common ground, Rubin said. As with any global forum, this process will take time. They may find 2020 to be overly optimistic.

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