Gigabit society, the promise of an ultra-fast world

The broad deployment of fibre networks will allow for internet speeds which are sufficiently high to further develop and improve these future-oriented applications, and will play a role in both mobile and fixed gigabit connections

Internet data transmission speeds of at least 1Gb/s should soon become a reality, as the European Commission has put in place goals for the availability of ultra-fast broadband ‘gigabit’ speeds across the European Union.

But what difference would these speeds make for consumers and businesses?

The main reason behind the strive for such high internet speeds is connected to the increased need for the digitisation of European industry.

It has been said that we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution, driven by new-generation computer technologies such as cloud computing, big data analytics, 3D printing and robotics.

Connectivity will be crucial to this digitisation, hence the idea of ensuring all European cities have access to ultra-fast mobile and fixed home internet services.

What can be done with gigabit internet speeds

Although we might consider our current internet speeds as sufficiently fast, especially when compared to dial-up modem speeds of the 1990s and early 2000s, a switch to gigabit speeds would bring with it a whole new technological dimension.

Below are some things which have the potential of becoming an everyday reality once such gigabit speeds become widespread

•  Public and private transport can be streamlined, with driverless cars sending and receiving signals to and from other cars, traffic lights and emergency services, effectively eliminating gridlocks

•  Patients can remain in their home to receive diagnoses on their health and for post-operative care, while doctors can assist one another through HD videoconferencing during surgeries

•  Very large amounts of data can be shared amongst researchers online, in seconds. Likewise, hospitals can share information almost instantaneously. A typical CT scan typically takes 14 minutes to send at current speeds, but only 40 seconds at gigabit speeds

•  Electrical smart grids can be automated and controlled remotely through computers, with only the required power being transmitted to power grids, eliminating wastage

•  Smart cities, using large sensor networks and other Internet of Things (a network of home appliances, vehicles and other physical devices, all connected through the internet) devices to resolve issues such as traffic and pollution through the collection of data

•  Students can attend classes without having to be physically present, with seamless teacher-student interaction through real-time HD video

While it could be argued that some of these applications already exist, they are currently constrained through cost, technological capability and availability.

The broad deployment of fibre networks will allow for internet speeds which are sufficiently high to further develop and improve these future-oriented applications, and will play a role in both mobile and fixed gigabit connections.

The European Commission’s objectives

The Commission is proposing that by 2025, all schools, transport stations and main public service providers and enterprises which are digital-centric, have access to fixed internet with download and upload speed of 1Gb/s, or 1000Mb/s of data per second.

It also aims for EU homes to have access to internet speeds of a minimum of 100Mb/s, and for 5G mobile data speeds to be available in all urban areas by 2025.

The Commission’s objective is for at least one major city in each member state to have 5G mobile data services offered by 2020.

5G, short for 5th generation mobile networks, will be the successor to current 4G and 3G technologies, which are significantly slower.

The standard, which is still in the development phase, will offer mobile phone users internet download and upload speeds of at least 1Gb/s over the mobile network. This would essentially make mobile data speeds much faster than most current home broadband packages.

5G requires considerably different technology than its precursors, 4G and 3G, and uses arrays of antennas rather than a single antenna to transmit data.

At 1Gb/s, an average high definition film of 3Gb in size would take around 30 seconds to download, and a little longer than four minutes at 100Mb/s.

In terms of financing, the Commission is encouraging both national government and private companies to invest in ultra-fast network technologies.

Ultra-fast internet in Malta

The fastest current mobile data connection in Malta is Vodafone Malta’s 4G+, which started being rolled out in June this year, and can offer download speeds of up to 210Mb/s. 

GO offers 4G on selected plans, which can provide average download speeds of around 80Mb/s, and it plans to roll out 4G+ soon.

Melita currently only offers 3G, which can reach download speeds of around 3-7Mb/s. They plan to make 4G speeds available some time in 2018, or earlier that same year in case of a merger with Vodafone.

Vodafone Malta aim to start offering 5G to their customers by 2020, in line with EU gigabit internet targets. There is still no word about cost.

As customers might sometimes know through experience, real world speeds can be significantly lower than theoretical ones, especially depending on coverage in the area.

You will also require a 3G or 4G capable phone if you are to use these existing technologies.

When it comes to home internet, GO offers speeds of up to 200Mb/s over fibre, but availability of this depends on fibre-optic cable connectivity in your area.

GO also launched a 1Gb/s fixed internet service for businesses last week.

The fastest home connection was launched just this week, by Melita, and offers a 1Gb/s connection to customers in Valletta, Sliema and St Julian’s, with plans to extend it nationwide.

Melita also offers a 250Mb/s connection, available all across the island.

Crucial to the success of gigabit internet will be the coverage of mobile connections across the country, and the stability of fixed business and home services.