Everything You Need to Know about 5G

Everything You Need to Know about 5G

- Dr Ibraheem Dooba 

Recently, the Federal Government approved the use of 5G. But many people didn’t know how to react to that announcement because they know next to nothing about 5G. In this primer, we at Daily Trust want to answer your questions about the fifth-generation wireless connectivity: the difference between 4G and 5G, the difference between bits and bytes, why China may have an edge to win the AI war, why countries such as the UK, Japan and Australia banned Huawei equipment, what 5G means for us as individuals, businesses and a country. 

What is 5G?

It is so-called because it is the fifth generation of wireless networking technology. When the first generation rolled-in in the 1970s and 80s, it was deployed on analogue. So anyone could listen in on calls. The coming of 2G in the 90s changed that situation because it was run on digital devices which enabled encryptions of calls. The third generation came in the early 2000s and now, many cities and towns in Nigeria have access to 4G or LTE. 

The hunger for speed

Many would argue that the hype about 5G is mostly about the promise of speed. At least, the comparison between 4G and 5G can be understood in that direction. 5G promises to bring connectivity speed of up to 10 gigabits per second to your phone. That is at least 600 times faster than the 4G connection on your phone. The is fast enough to stream several movies at the same time or download a 4K high definition movie in 25 seconds. Yes, in half a minute. 

The need for speed 

We humans are eager to make our lives easier, safer and healthier. To do that, we need machines to talk to themselves. For machines to talk to one another, they need high speed, low latency connections. And the fifth generation of wireless technology solves this problem. Indeed in the last 30 years, people connected with one another through machines but in the next 30 years, machines will connect with other machines. For example, vehicles can have conversations with themselves in the manner that a Mercedes can say “Careful, Mr Camry! I'm on your left.”

Bits and bytes

Have you noticed that all the Internet connectivity speed is measured in bits? Yes, there is a bit and there is a byte. They measure different things. On the one hand, bits (articulated the way it is spelt) measures transfer speed. That is why MTN for example, may promise you a speed of 2Mbps (2 megabits per second). On the other hand, storage space or capacity is measured in bytes (pronounced bites). That is why your hard disk has 500 Gigabytes of space to store stuff. 


If 5G can yield the speed it promises and would allow devices to always stay connected, that would enable the things many have been dreaming of and many things we have not yet thought of. For example, it would make self-driving cars better and reduce accidents on the roads because most accidents are due to human error. 

Therefore, you can take away that burden from humans. 5G will also improve telemedicine in such a way that surgery can be performed on a patient thousands of miles away. It will also substantially strengthen the internet of things or IoT where your car can talk to your gates that you are coming home and your gates will talk with your bathtub to draw hot water for you because you need to wash away all the stress. They will all serve you without your active intervention. They are like intelligent slaves who can predict, enact and look forward to your comfort. 

What does it mean for you?

5G may take a while to become common in Nigeria. Even in the US, as of 2020, some companies could only reach about 35 cities with their 5G. I remember how 4G was introduced to Nigeria by our telecom companies. One advert said something similar to “you can access it on the fifth floor of Merit House.”

Even though 4G has been in operation for many years, Globacom’s 4G just got to my hometown, Bida, a few months ago. My house in Minna still doesn’t have GLO’s 4G. This is 2021! When it does come to you, 5G will ease your life and your business substantially. 

Perceived link with COVID-19 and cancer

There is scant evidence that 5G is linked to COVID-19 or cancer. This is a radio wave - which we encounter throughout our daily activities. So 5G appears to be safe. 

Cyber Security challenges 

The threats of a data breach always exist. Whether what is being hacked is a new or old technology. That is why the field of cyber security wouldn’t go away any time soon. So 5G may also come with its own vulnerabilities which will be quickly patched by experts. Then hackers will then exploit another flaw and experts will fix it. Then ..., you get the idea. 

What is the fight about?

Countries have the perception that whoever leads in 5G will have more connected devices and anyone with more connected devices will generate more data. Finally, a country with more data could win the AI (artificial intelligence) war. Why? Because machine learning (ML), a substantial component of AI, depends on data - a lot of data. 
It then follows that the more developed 5G country will lead others. Also, there is the fear of surveillance. Huawei, the China affiliated company seems to have an edge in that respect. That is why Australia, UK, Japan, Taiwan and so forth have banned Huawei network devices. This ban has granted opportunities to companies like Nokia. 

Important Jargons

The Spectrum

This is the spectrum of all radio wave frequencies starting from the low end, 3 kHz, to the end, 300 GHz. Our NCC allocates and regulates the ownership of the ranges or bands so that the frequencies wouldn’t interfere with one another. 
Low-Band Frequencies

These are bands below 1GHz and are used by radio and television stations and mobile networks. They can cover large distances and travel through walls. �
Mid-Band Spectrum

Experts call this the sweet spot. This range extends from 1 GHz to 6 GHz. It is used by Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and mobile networks. Carriers like it because it has lots of bandwidth and is not as problematic as the next one: mmWave. �
Millimetre-Wave or mmWave

This wireless spectrum is from above 24 or 30 GHz. It offers huge bandwidth, so telecom companies can achieve faster speeds with this but the signals are not very reliable. 5G networks use this. But because signals don't travel that far with mmWave, the carriers have to put many types of equipment within short distances. 
In sum, 5G is good for us. What is your role in all this? Pressure the Nigerian government for the proper implementation. In the meantime, enjoy your 4G. That is if you have it in your village.


Ibraheem Dooba has a PhD in IT from Petronas University and studied Advanced Cyber Security from Stanford University.

PS: Daily Trust editorial board asked me to write this primer. Accordingly, it was first published on Sunday (13 September) edition of the paper.


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