Race on to be first to get 5G tech to world markets
The annual Mobile World Congress stops over in Barcelona today where the globe's biggest operators will attempt to seal lucrative deals, woo influential policymakers and prove they are further ahead of the technological curve than their rivals. More than 95000 people are expected to attend, including politicians and everyone who is anyone in the telecoms industry across Europe, the US and China.Mobile World Congress has been happening for the past three decades. After Madrid, Cannes and Hong Kong, Barcelona has been named host until 2023.Despite Apple's notable absence - the company prefers its own trade show in September - companies from across the world will unveil their smartphones, connected cars and wearable gadgets that consumers will be buying and using over the next year.There will also be an appearance by Facebook's billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is expected to defend ambitious plans to roll out free internet in the developing world.Other highlights will be the debut of Ford's newest car - a Kuga SUV kitted with "smart" technology - this is how loose the term "mobile" has become.But the gathering in Fira Gran Via, Barcelona's carbon-neutral 25084m2 conference centre, is best known as a showcase for a deluge of new smartphone releases. Samsung has already unveiled images of its new phones with pressure-sensitive touch and high-speed charging ports.The prize the telecoms industry really covets is not the latest smartphone or e-car; it is the ability to deploy 5G speeds to its customers.It is the elusive data standard that is around 200 times faster than today's speeds, and European telecoms companies are already concerned that their competitors in Asia will beat them to be the first to offer ultra-fast services.And they are right to be concerned. The South Korean company SK Telecom has already threatened to use the Mobile World Congress to showcase the world-first 5G mobile streaming.At 20 gigabits a second, it is 200 times faster and has 1000 times more data capacity than its current network.SK Telecom, South Korea's biggest network operator, claims you can download a film in two seconds using its next-generation cellphone.SK said it had worked with Nokia and Intel to create 5G "hologram and virtual reality technologies" that will be on display at the four-day conference.But 5G is as much the domain of politicians as it is of companies - countries are in a global race to develop 5G networks.The EU now has deals with China, Japan and South Korea to agree on an exact definition of 5G, which remains a concept and is still in its research and development stage. It is thought to deliver extremely fast speeds of 10Gb/s to 50Gb/s.China is investing heavily in 5G development work and South Korea says it will have a 5G network ready for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for the digital economy, is the politician behind a à700-million drive to promote Europe's research and development in 5G, and is working with the EU's mobile industry and academics.The UK's telecoms regulator, Ofcom, is planning to support the release of further access to Britain's airwaves to support future 5G mobile services. This follows a meeting between Oettinger and the chief executives of BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia, Orange, Vodafone, Nokia and Ericsson to discuss an action plan for deploying 5G technology.Some expect a new 5G deal to be announced during this week's talks. Telstra, Australia's biggest telecoms firm, used last year's event to announce its agreement with Ericsson to co-operate on testing 5G.Volvo will roll out the world's first car that can be unlocked and switched on using a cellphone app, but drivers must wait until 2017 for keys to be replaced with the car maker's own app.Consumers could use the super-fast data to connect their fridge, washing machine and car to a data network, to switch devices on and off remotely.In one of the oldest cities in Europe, Barcelona, the world will get its first real glimpse of how 5G could transform the future.