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Vodafone 5G trials: Your fast, connected future is almost here

Vodafone has conducted its first public tests of 5G technology, saying it's a future we've barely imagined yet. And yes, the Internet of Things is in there too.

Kelly Nelson/CNET

Vodafone has put on its game face for the global race towards 5G, conducting the first public trials of the technology in Sydney today.

The telco has partnered with Nokia to test and develop the technology, and both companies were talking up the benefits of lower latency, faster speeds and greater capacity for more connected devices on the network.

Vodafone isn't the first to test the technology in Australia -- Telstra conducted live 5G trials last month (albeit behind closed doors). And it's also not the only telco racing towards next-gen connectivity, with companies across Asia, North America and beyond all working to get on board the next big thing.

But if you think 5G is just about loading YouTube videos in less time, you need to channel your inner futurist. According to Vodafone, 5G technology is going to connect devices and technologies that we're barely even thinking about or using yet.

"We don't see it as 4G with a bit of an improvement, in new clothes and marketed under a new name," said Jeff Owen, head of wireless network strategy at Vodafone Hutchison Australia. "We see 5G as a revolution."

So what does that mean? Vodafone described the leaps we've made from 2G onwards in terms of what the technology enables.

  • 2G to 3G -- The era of pictures and image content on your phone
  • 3G to 4G -- The era of video
  • 4G to 5G -- The era of capacity and the Internet of Things

The world is gearing up for the future of virtual and augmented reality, the commoditisation of robots, a world of electric vehicles and autonomous cars, 8K streaming and even connected refrigerators that can push pictures of the veggie drawer to your phone.

But while the futurists get you excited about connected hoverboards and robot butlers, the telecommunications engineers are quietly freaking out in the corner, wondering how they're going to connect it all.

How do you reduce latency to a millisecond, to ensure driverless cars can smartly avoid collisions in real time? How do you connect the billions of connected appliances we'll all insist on having?

That's where 5G comes in.

Faster speeds, lower latency and more connections. Here are some numbers Vodafone provided to give you an idea.

Peak Speed10 Gbps150 - 600 Mbps14 - 24 Mbps
Latency1 millisecond30ms +100ms
Connectionsmillions/sq. km1000s/cell100s/cell

So 5G is about the Internet of Things, and while that phrase might instantly turn you off, it will enable the kinds of technologies that we're talking about now but only really seeing in prototype. You can expect 5G to be an official standard (in terms of spectrum and network support) in 2018, and Vodafone says devices supporting 5G (whether they're connected parking metres or phones capable of streaming in 8K) in 2021.

By then, the devices that will require faster connectivity and lower latency will be here. And you'll be needing and expecting the kind of benefits that 5G brings.

And it won't just be about YouTube.