Here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a lot of talk has been dedicated to the subject of 5G mobile networks. While it all seems a bit abstract from the African perspective, where 3G is a luxuy and LTE bars as rare as unicorn snot, it’s an interesting debate nevertheless.

The Next Generation Mobile Alliance (NGMA) has just published its white paper on the subject, inviting the industry to start defining standards and preparing now.

Generally speaking, the timetable is that 5G proper will be here by 2020-ish, which listening to people sounds like an optimistically realistic timetable.

Korean operator KT says it will provide a 5G network for the Winter Olympics in 2018, but given 5G isn’t defined yet there’s obviously a bit of room for manouevre in defining what they deliver.

The main concerns, however, seem to be security, reliability and latency. You’ll notice I didn’t mention speed there.

At a presentation discussing the 5G future this morning, Huawei chairman Ken Hu urged for the entire industry – along with government, health and education representatives – to come together to develop 5G standards and a clear upgrade path for existing networks.

There’ll be a lot of 4.5G-type talk in the coming years as networks begin upgrading he said, but ultimately he expects a single 5G standard that will cover all mobile communications from the slowest to the fastest.

And in terms of speed, he’s anticipating 10Gbps connections over the air – enough to allow hospitals to send realtime brain scanning imagery over the internet to remote consultants.

More importantly, however, it’s the low latency and ability to connect 10bn devices around the world that’s important. Because soon everything will be connected to the internet, and the current infrastructure isn’t going to cope.

For Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, the autonomous car is the best example of how the mobile internet will have to evolve. Driverless cars which can talk to each other promise a safety revolution – they can theoretically warn each other of danger ahead and start breaking with superhuman reactions.

But current networks are unreliable and have even LTE has 40ms of latency in the best case scenario. You can’t play a PC FPS over it, let alone drive a car.

“If you talk about autonomous delivery of cars or healthcare,” Mollenkopf says, “The requirements are a very dofferent type of securouty and robistness than we see today. These are as important as the speed advantages we’ve seen in network design to today.”

Mollenkopf also outlined a scenario where 5G is a common standard used at carying frequencies, from 800MHz for communications to 6GHz for mobile backhaul.

There is one major issue that’s likely to raise its head again over 5G. Just when you thought the net neutrality discussion was over thanks to the US’ regulators’ actions of the last few weeks, Nokia boss Rajeev Suri put the philosophical cat back among the pidgeons by suggesting that certain internet of things apps would require net neutrality to be pushed to one side and certain traffic has to be prioritised.

“You don’t want [the internet in] a driverless car to be delivered on a ‘best effort’ basis,” he said.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.