5G in Iceland | 5G Network Coverage in Iceland | Swapp Agency

5G in Iceland

Whether or not you are well-informed on tech matters, you have definitely heard the term 5G in the last year or so. The next giant leap in cellular data is already starting to make its way around the world, and it seems as though it’s just a matter of time till it’s considered the new normal. 

Although 5G has been met with some mixed attitudes in the US (more on that later), it has generally been quite welcomed in Europe. The 5G technology of the Chinese multinational company Huawei has become quite sought after. 

Iceland is one of the latest countries to sign up as a partner to launch 5G via Nova, a local telecommunications company that is a relatively new player on the market. But what exactly is 5G? Why is it important? What does it mean for people and businesses in Iceland? Read on to find out more.

What is 5G?

5G interconnected world view from space

The term 5G stands for fifth-generation technology for mobile internet service. To put it simply, it’s about the technology and infrastructure that allows you to connect to the internet from your hand-held device. 

Of course, there was also 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G. If you are old enough to remember when the first iPhone came out, you will probably also remember that for most people at that time, you were pretty limited to what you could actually do on the internet from your phone. 

In between each of the increments of ‘Gs’, you will note a significant difference in speed, capability and reliability. Most people would remember a considerable shift in mobile data with the introduction of 4G to the market. 

4G was introduced in Sweden and Norway in 2009 and, over the next few years, became the industry standard that most mobile service providers are hoping to offer customers. We’ve all had moments when travelling where we’ve complained that our data is too slow because ‘we can only get 3G.’

5G is the latest and fastest data available, and the first country to adopt 5G on a large scale was South Korea in April of 2019. To access the 5G network, a user needs to have a smartphone with a 5G modem. 

A Brief History of the Telecom Industry in Iceland

Old fashioned phones mounted to a home wall

The demand for and usage of telecommunications in Iceland is incredibly high. Approximately 97% of all Icelandic households are connected to the internet, including rural and remote areas. The journey of interconnectivity in the land of fire and ice first began over a century ago. 

1906 was a year that marked the end of a certain level of isolation for the Icelandic people when the very first telephone lines arrived from Scotland via the Faroe Islands. This was just the beginning though, it would take almost another 60 years before the country’s telecommunications network was officially finished. 

The Cableship Cambria in 1905

Photo: The Cableship Cambria – 1905,  Seyðisfjörður, Iceland – .The Technical Museum of Iceland

In the earlier part of the 20th century, it was actually quite common for small towns to have just one phone, and messages were relayed in a more physical way from person to person. In fact, there were even some towns in Iceland that still had only one phone until the late 70s, as referenced below in a commercial for an Icelandic yoghurt.

Arla Skyr “The Messenger” – TV Commercial from Truenorth ehf on Vimeo. 

Today there are three major players in the telecom sector; Vodafone, Siminn and Nova. It may seem like a small market, but this is actually a lot of variety for a nation of only 360,000 people. There’s actually more brand variety in telco providers than milk in Iceland.

Each of these companies has a different strength to offer to the Icelandic market. Vodafone is an international telco and is known for economic savings. 

Siminn is a state-owned enterprise. It’s the oldest Icelandic telco still in operation. It has the most extensive network because it owns most of the infrastructure. 

Nova is the youngest player on the market and has focused more on the capital of Reykjavík. 

Nova was the first telco to receive the approval to launch 5G in Iceland with technology provided by Huawei. The Chinese company will assist in the building of the necessary infrastructure. Vodafone has also made a deal with Huawei. Siminn has made a partnership with the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson.   

The Concerns of Huawei for 5G in Iceland

The back of a modern day blue Huawei smartphone in 2021

You can’t discuss the concerns of 5G without at least making a mention of some of the strange and unusual conspiracy theories, and there are some fascinating ones out there. These theories range from the belief that 5G towers will increase the risk of cancer to mind control and even that the rollout of this technology was in some way responsible for the Coronavirus Pandemic. But, of course, none of these has any validity. 

The main genuine concerns that people have about 5G are actually in regards to privacy. Sweden’s government has ordered Huawei to leave the country by 2025 due to fears that there might be some data privacy issues. 

A tin foil hat some sceptics believe will protect them from fake 5G problems

The main objection is that Huawei might be obligated to share information about its users with the Chinese government. This is considered to be a serious threat to national security. Although Huawei has consistently denied that it must share information with the Chinese government, some European nations remain unconvinced.

Although the plans with Vodafone, Nova and Huawei are still going ahead, Iceland will, of course, be paying close attention to how the rollout is handled. Iceland’s trade and commerce closely follows that of many of the other Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

The Importance of 5G in Iceland

A mountainous landscape in Iceland along the South Coast

In just under 100 years, Iceland went from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to showing the world that bigger isn’t necessarily always better. A large part of this was because of innovations in telecommunications. 

Iceland worked with international companies and took advantage of remote work and the gig economy long before many other nations, which has greatly benefited this tiny nation. 

Internet data is at the core of most businesses in Iceland, and the general attitude to 5G is that it can only enhance things. 

What Are the Main Benefits of 5G?

So we now know what 5G is and that it’s definitely coming, but what are the benefits we can expect?

Speed Upgrades

A 5G operating smartphone in Iceland

It’s expected that the data speed within the 5G network will be 10 times faster than 4G. This will undoubtedly revolutionise the way we use our smartphones. The truth is that these speeds have never been available to consumers before, so it’s hard to imagine what possibilities will be unlocked as a side effect. 

We can’t be sure exactly how 5G speeds will change things apart from it being a lot faster to download and upload data, but we can probably expect more interconnectivity of homes, devices, businesses and people. 

Icelanders are genuinely quite highly informed people known for being early adopters; we should expect that a vast majority of the country will take advantage of the speed upgrades.

Availability & Coverage

A man hanging from a telecommunications utility pole in Iceland

Iceland is already among the top nations in the world when it comes to data coverage. Although the country isn’t tiny, it’s still small enough to maintain pretty decent coverage in most inhabited areas. 

To inject a personal example, I’ve had perfect 4G reception at the top of a Glacier. So if the internet in Iceland can get even better, there’s no telling the good that can come from it. 

Increased Bandwidth

5G introduces increased internet bandwidth

Although they are related, speed and bandwidth are actually different. When we look at internet speed, we are looking at how fast a piece of data can be sent from one point to another. Bandwidth, on the other hand, looks at how much data can be transferred in a second. 

On average, 4G is capable of transferring about 200mbps (megabytes per second). Fully functional 5G will be capable of transferring more than 1Gbps (gigabyte per second). This is a level of bandwidth nobody has ever really experienced before. 

Enhanced Capacity

5G brings enhanced internet capacity in Iceland

The faster speed, bandwidth and coverage of 5G will mean that we will be able to perform multiple functions simultaneously without interruption. For businesses, this will mean super enhancing their functionality.

On the other end of the spectrum, this will mean that there won’t be a fight in households over who gets to watch Netflix and who gets to play Fortnite; both can be done simultaneously. 

Low Latency

5G brings low network latency in Iceland

Network latency is the amount of time between an action and the desired result. For example, the amount of time it takes you to get to your Facebook page once you have clicked enter in the address bar. 

Often when people complain about the speed of their connection, it is the latency they are actually referring to. When they are annoyed that ‘it takes too long for the page to load.’

With 4g internet, on an optimally functioning computer, the latency can be as low as 20-30 milliseconds. This might not seem like a lot, but for some of us, it’s still noticeably ‘not instantaneous.’ It is predicted that the average latency of a 5G internet connection will be less than 10 milliseconds. To put that into perspective, the average mouse click is about 50 milliseconds.


Improved internet and intern-connectedness in Iceland with 5G

It seems that we are about to embark on a new chapter of life when it comes to the internet. It’s an exciting time. It looks as though 5G is set to inject $330bn into the global economy by 2030. This may be just a small estimation of how it will help change the way we work and operate. 

The future is going to be way more connected than we could have ever imagined.