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With the arrival of 5G iPhones last October and sub-£200 Android handsets in the past six months, it’s tempting to assume that the next generation of connectivity is finally here for everyone.

One in three mobile phones sold worldwide in 2021 will be 5G-enabled, according to CCS Insight forecasts, while an ABI Research report today predicts 681m 5G handsets will ship in 2022.

It’s 5G Week in the UK and, as lockdown eases, I attended my first in-person conference in more than a year today — 5G Realised. The theme was 5G moving beyond the rollout of networks by operators to actual deployment of the tech by business.

And yet, the comments of speaker after speaker suggested the dream of 5G is still far from being realised, with spectrum, standards, devices and skills not yet available or mature enough to give fully-fledged experiences or allow proper implementation of projects.

The government has been doing its best to prime the pump with initiatives, funding and pilot projects, but tests and trials still predominate. Adrian Talbot, head of Centre of Excellence for Mobility at Ferrovial Group, presented on a private 5G network being established for the site of the Silvertown tunnel construction project under the Thames. Using the current N77 5G spectrum was a challenge in terms of its availability, he said, and the availability of devices that could connect to a standalone Internet of Things network was even more of a problem.

The full feature set for 5G is also not around yet. Talbot said business was waiting for Release 17, which would allow networks to be sliced up to provide different services, among other innovations. In December, the 3GPP standards body pushed back the timeline for Release 17 to 2022, saying the pandemic was slowing the process as delegates were not able to meet in person to thrash things out.

Karen Poulter, head of Information Systems at Hutchison Ports UK, told the conference that coronavirus had created supply chain problems for chips and devices and added that not being able to guarantee spectrum was a “huge issue” for the whole viability of a port automation project using 5G.

For the creative industry, Factory 42 and BBC Studios described The Green Planet Augmented Reality Experience, presented by Sir David Attenborough and powered by 5G. Coming in January, the immersive experience will allow users to explore flora and fauna through high resolution holographic video delivered over EE’s network.

Even there, people will be accessing the app experience through their smartphone or tablet screen. The devices best suited to this — AR glasses — are just not available to consumers yet, despite the best efforts of Snap, Facebook and Apple.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. 5G will kill the games console
One set of devices doing very well right now are the latest game consoles from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. But Naoki Yoshida, a director at games developer Square Enix, tells us 5G will eventually mean “players can enjoy a high-quality gaming experience on any device by not being tied to a gaming hardware or TV monitor”.

2. Bitcoin trackers’ roundabout routes
London is preparing for its first listed security tracking the price of bitcoin, with a launch that uses crypto-friendly Swiss market rules to push against regulatory scepticism about digital assets. In the US, comments from Securities and Exchange Commission chair Gary Gensler have damped hopes of a swift approval of bitcoin ETFs this year and the financial authorities are preparing to take a more active role in regulating the $1.5tn cryptocurrency market.

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3. EU plans digital wallet
The EU is set to unveil detailed plans for a bloc-wide digital wallet on Wednesday following requests from member states to find a safe way for citizens to access public and private services online. The digital wallet would securely store payment details and passwords and allow citizens from all 27 countries to log into local government websites or pay utility bills using a single recognised identity, said people with direct knowledge of the plans.

4. World’s biggest meat supplier disrupted by cyber attack 
Brazilian company JBS suffered a cyber attack on its North American and Australian systems that disrupted its global operations and forced it to stand down up to 7,000 employees. The incident, which was first discovered on Sunday, is the latest in a string of cyber attacks on global companies, including last month’s ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline.

5. Oz regulator claims victory over Big Tech
Australia’s competition regulator has declared victory in a three-year battle to make Facebook and Google pay for news after the internet groups signed deals with publishers that could be worth about A$200m a year. “We are on track for deals all around. It’s been a big success,” Rod Sims, chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, told the Financial Times.

Tech tools — Page-Roberts EV design

The conventional way to position a battery in an electric car is a “skateboard” arrangement under the floor, but what if you were to put it upright between the seating? UK start-up Page-Roberts revealed such a design concept today, saying it makes the resulting vehicle lighter and more streamlined. It claims this gives the potential for an extended range of up to 30 per cent, or to use a much smaller battery to achieve a similar range. Manufacturing costs could be cut by up to 36 per cent, it said. The company was founded in 2019 by Mark Simon, former project director at engineering firm Ricardo, and automotive pioneer Freddy Page-Roberts.

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