Imagine this. You’re waiting for some exam results, so to distract yourself, you tune into the U2 concert that’s happening in China, which is seven hours ahead of Germany. You pay a small fee and your flatmate argues that you could just stream their music online instead. But she doesn’t get it: you love the feeling of being in a crowd. There’s virtual avatars all around you and as Bono takes the stage in his trademark sunglasses, you look around to see the other avatars applauding and whooping. You follow this with a football match, watching it through glasses that give you the option of viewing the game from specific players’ perspectives. Before you know it, hours have passed and it’s time to go pick up your results at university. You’ve done great, but more importantly, you didn’t spend the whole day agonising. You thank your lucky stars you live in 2025 and life’s so much easier than it used to be.

Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi novel, right? But thanks to the new 5G communication standard, these services could be within our grasp in a matter of years. In December 2017, the specs for the first version of the new 5G communication standard were finalized. While Deutsche Telekom has stated they’d make the new standard available for commercial use in 2020, that doesn’t mean everyone working in 5G gets to take a two year-long nap. Quite the contrary. We’re in pioneer territory: engineers and programmers are working tirelessly to experiment and innovate their way into making those futuristic scenarios tangible.

2018 was the first year we got to take this insane technology out of the laboratory and bring it into real life. So what were the biggest developments in 5G this year?

Krasimir Nikolov, CEO of Quark VR - testing another prototype of their VR streaming service, using low latency technology

Krasimir Nikolov, CEO of Quark VR – testing another prototype of their VR streaming service, using low latency technology

MAY 2018: FIRST ACTIVATED ANTENNAS

Deutsche Telekom implemented 5G antennas in a live environment in Berlin. The radio is the access network part of 5G and – no big deal (huge deal) – this made Deutsche Telekom the first operator in Europe to implement a standard compliant 5G network.

Why this matters: this is the first step in a brave new world! This was vital for hubraum because we want to give startups access to that 5G network so they can develop the 5G services of tomorrow. This laid the foundation for us doing so. Hello, future.

JUNE-AUGUST 2018: TESTING

An important part of the year is a kind that doesn’t come with much bragging rights — the hard, not particularly glamorous work of performance testing across all customer scenarios.

Why this matters: This may not sound flashy, but this is the work that means you’ll have reliable bandwidth, latency, speed and mobility from 2020 onwards.

Gijs Den Butter, CEO of Senseglove - demonstrating his device at hubraum

Gijs Den Butter, CEO of Senseglove – demonstrating his device at hubraum

SEPTEMBER 2018: IFA CONSUMER FAIR

New technology can be as confusing as it is exciting. Since 5G isn’t yet broadly available, companies haven’t been able to develop the sort of services we’ll see in a few years’ times. This means there’s also a lot of uncertainty about what 5G is, especially given the variations in definition. Here at hubraum, we’re not just working on bridging the technological gap, but we’re also trying to bridge the knowledge gap.

An antidote to this uncertainty about what 5G is, exactly, are events like the consumer fair, where we demonstrated the first consumer applications live on 5G test network, including a speed test. Excitingly, the fair also boasted a 360 degree virtual reality application. We set up 360 degree camera on a 5G test device in the helium balloon over Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, and then we streamed the High Definition 360 video over the 5G network to our experience hub at the consumer fair. The visitors there were able to experience the 360 degree panorama for themselves in high definition through VR glasses.

Why this matters: There’s often a lot of publicity about 5G being about faster speeds of mobile access. While this is true, what often gets forgotten is that 5G will enable the introduction of new enhanced consumer experiences in the areas of AR and VR.

OCTOBER 11 2018: THE FIRST PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION OF 5G MOBILITY IN EUROPE

On October 11, Netzetag showcased the best of Deutsche Telekom’s network to the invited media. As well as demonstrating live 5G applications, Deutsche Telekom invited journalists to take our drive test and experience seamless 5G mobility in a car traveling between cells in the Berlin cluster.

Why this matters: This marked another European first in terms of the handover of a 5G signal between LTE and 5G cells. We were able to demonstrate that in a moving car traveling between cells and we were able to record some interesting speeds, still limited by the capability of the test device used.

OCTOBER 11 2018: Announced partnership with Niantic working on an enabling platform for advanced AR.

You’ve probably heard of Niantic, a San Francisco-based software company, thanks to their break-out AR game and best way of tricking your nearest and dearest into doing sport – Pokémon Go – and their upcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Our Netzetag wasn’t just significant because of testing 5G mobility, but because this was the day we announced a partnership with Niantic to work together to create advanced AR gaming experiences over 5G and Edge infrastructure.

Why this matters: We believe based on the mass appeal of Niantic’s gaming titles and their plans for their Real World Augmented Reality Gaming Platform, there’s enormous potential for leveraging 5G and edge infrastructure to deliver real-time multiplayer AR gaming experiences at scale.

Dr. Alexander Lautz & Omar Téllez sitting on chair

Dr. Alexander Lautz of Deutsche Telekom & Omar Téllez of Niantic at the hubraum space in Berlin

NOVEMBER 2018: Kickoff for our 5G prototyping program.

Phew. After eight months of scouting the entire world for startups that we think need 5G to really take off; after taking phone calls with 60 companies and whittling the shortlist down to just 15, we’re launching the program that will take 5G from some impressive-sounding theory to mind blowing reality. We’ve got startups participating from all over the world – Holland, Ireland, Poland, the United States, even Munich – and they’ll all be assigned at least one technological mentor and one business mentor. Partners will not only get access to 5G and Deutsche Telekom’s Edge Cloud infrastructure (giving them the opportunity to develop their prototypes using it) but will also get technical and business support.

Why this matters: we’ve got some ideas going into development that give us goosebumps. One such idea is a full-body VR application for areas like gaming or training, something which VRee is working on with us. Another idea that we can’t wait to see to come to fruition is offered by Sense Glove, who produce gloves which allow the user to feel virtual objects. Sounds abstract, sure, but the implications are dizzying. We’re also excited about Innoactive. They offer VR training via a HTC headset and are currently focused on the automotive industry. A car company client of theirs has already used this technology to train 10,000 employees. Usually, they’d have to fly a large chunk of these employees to an entirely different country just to show them one specific movement required on the factory line, but in this case  it was enough for their workers to step into a booth with the gloves and a VR headset and to learn that way, instead. We don’t want to exaggerate (we’re German, after all) — but we think that these startups’ ideas could impact the way we work, interact and have fun.

Impressed? Intrigued? Wish you could be a part of this, too? Apply to be part of our 5G prototyping program — the next intake of candidates will begin the program at the end of January.

Or tune into our podcast “sneakersandsuits” to be updated about the latest developments and other interesting topics.