Can your fridge go any faster? Get ready for 5G


We've just about got used to 4G mobile Web browsing, but industry experts are claiming ultra-fast fifth generation (5G) could be a reality by 2020—and it's your appliances and "smart cities" that are driving the innovation.

The European Union and several countries in Asia could be the first to get the technology, with South Korea at the forefront of efforts. The EU has invested 700 million euros ($899 million) over the next seven years and signed a partnership with Seoul last year to develop the infrastructure.

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5G, which could allow users to download a one-hour high definition film in six seconds, is seen as the lifeblood for the digital economy across the world with devices connected via the "Internet of Things," such as smart meters and cars, set to be wired up to the service.

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"We see 5G will be much more than a new radio access network, we see it as the key infrastructure for a digital society. It is how everything will function," Thibaut Kleiner, head of the unit in charge of network technology in the European Commission, told CNBC in an interview.

"Smart cities is one of the key applications of 'IoT,' it is about transforming building so they consume less energy, it's about managing traffic, it's about smart water, all this will require technology."

The global "IoT" market is expected to hit $7.1 trillion in 2020, up from $1.9 trillion in 2013, according to research firm IDC, with technology giants already researching ways to take advantage of the development.

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Chinese smartphone maker Huawei and South Korean electronics company Samsung have already developed key parts of infrastructure for 5G, but not devices such as smartphones.

However experts have warned that the majority of devices currently connected to the "IoT" would not be 5G-compatible—meaning that households would have to buy a whole range of new appliances.

"Many kinds of devices will be used with 5G, unlike 4G," Hyeon Woo Lee, a member of Korea's industry body 5G Forum, told CNBC in an interview.

The race will be on for device manufacturers to get first-mover advantage as the technology advances, but there will be tough challenges. And companies will have to match consumers' expectations on price and processing power.