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What is 5G?

By Rob Webber - Last updated on

We live in an increasingly interconnected world where technology empowers us to communicate and interact with others near instantaneously through a mobile device. While cutting-edge hardware and intuitive software are credited with engraining the smartphone into our daily lives, we often overlook the importance of how cell phone infrastructure plays a role in our socialization, productivity, creative endeavors, and entertainment.

Thanks to 4G LTE mobile broadband Internet towers across America, millions of users have enjoyed high-speed Internet that keeps up with our busy lives. It's surprising how quickly--and easily--I can pull up an episode of Breaking Bad on my Samsung Galaxy while on the train to work. It might take a minute or two to navigate from web browser to Netflix to the desired episode. Only a few years old, 4G LTE technology makes it possible to even watch TV or stream a movie in the first place.

Imagine, for a moment, if we sped things up even further. What more could we possibly do? It's hard to answer that question now, but we'll find out in the coming years when 5G wireless technology is rolled out worldwide. Faster, more reliable, and less power consuming than its predecessor, 5G makes a bold stance that can change our lives, and truly launch us into the Internet of Things.

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What is 5G internet?

5G is a wireless connection built specifically to keep up with the proliferation of devices that need a mobile internet connection. It's not just your phone and your computer anymore, either. Home appliances, door locks, security cameras, cars, wearables, dog collars, and so many other inert devices are beginning to connect to the web. It's all growing into a global phenomenon dubbed, the "Internet of Things."

The G in 5G means it's a generation of wireless technology. While most generations have technically been defined by their data transmission speeds, each has also been marked by a break in encoding methods, or "air interfaces," which make it incompatible with the previous generation.

1G was analog cellular. 2G technologies, such as CDMA, GSM, and TDMA, were the first generation of digital cellular technologies. 3G was the first real step towards making mobile devices internet ready. With 2G connections, you could do basic phone functions such as making phone calls, receive and send texts, and access small pockets of data through MMS. 3G opened data formats, making it quicker for mobile devices to connect to the internet. With 3G, you could surf the web, listen to music, and watch videos.

4G brings broadband speeds to your phone. Overall, 4G delivers up to 10 times faster connection speeds than 3G, illustrating how much technology has advanced in one generation. For some people, 4G LTE technology offers smartphone speeds equivalent to most Internet plans.

How fast is 5G?

3G technologies, such as EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS, brought speeds from 200kbps to a few megabits per second. 4G technologies, such as WiMAX and LTE, were the next incompatible leap forward, and they are now scaling up to hundreds of megabits and even gigabit-level speeds.

5G will make it easier for people to download and upload Ultra HD and 3D video. It will also make room for the thousands of Internet-connected devices entering our everyday world. Just imagine upgrading your data connection from a garden hose to a fire hose. The difference will be noticeable.

A report from the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance outlined the conditions 5G mobile broadband technology must meet:

  • Data rates of tens of megabits per second for tens of thousands of users.
  • Data rates of 100 megabits per second for metropolitan areas.
  • 1 Gb per second simultaneously to many workers on the same office floor.
  • Coverage improved.
  • Latency significantly reduced.

Now, this is all theoretical at the moment, as current 5G networks only exist in small, contained areas where further tests can be run. In addition, the actual standard speed for 5G won't be set until 2018, and most networks won't roll it out until 2020. However, 5G will cost more to implement and while the newest mobile phones will probably have it integrated, other handsets could be deemed out of date.

Which carriers have the best 5G coverage?

T-Mobile is currently leading the way with the rollout of their 5G network.

Verizon recently announced it will roll out 5G service in 11 US cities by midyear, but that deployment is meant to replace fixed broadband rather than mobile service. AT&T will deliver its DIRECTV Now video service over 5G to a limited number of customers in Austin, Texas.

T-Mobile, not to be left out of the race, announced that they will be the first nationwide 5G carrier in 2020.

Needless to say, we can be witness to heated competition in the development of 5G mobile broadband technology in the following years.

When did 5G launch?

5G launched in the US in 2020 in a limited amount of areas. It could take another two to three years for 5G to be available nationally.

Similar to 4G LTE enabled smartphones and connected devices, you'll need a compatible device that can use the 5G frequency. The phone, tablet or any other device you use will need to have the right chipset inside. Smartphone parts manufacturer Qualcomm is already on the case with its X50 modem. Again, it may take years for consumers to gain access to the 5G compatible technology.

Could 5G replace home internet?

5G home internet shows one major advantage over 4G: huge capacity. Carriers can't offer competitively priced 4G home internet because there just isn't enough capacity on 4G cell sites for the 190GB of monthly usage most homes now expect. This could really increase home internet competition in the US, where, according to a 2016 FCC report, 51 percent of Americans only have one option for 25Mbps or higher home internet service.

5G home internet is also much easier for carriers to roll out than house-by-house fiber optic lines. Rather than digging up every street, carriers just have to install fiber optics to a cell site every few blocks, and then give customers wireless modems.

How will 5G technology affect me?

Due to the unique nature of 5G technology, it is far more likely that 5G network areas will be in smaller, targeted, population-dense areas where more people can make the most of it. However, we can also expect a greater degree of versatility previously incapable with the current 4G LTE standard. It will be more adaptive to user's needs and demands and therefore able to allocate more or less bandwidth based on the application.

Beyond faster speeds and better coverage, one of the most notable benefits of 5G mobile broadband Internet is how it will dramatically reduce lag and latency. Multiplayer gaming, for example, requires a lower latency for more immediate responses from the server. In addition, a lower latency could allow streamers to view live content with no perceivable delay.

Capacity is also an important issue addressed by 5G technology. As the Internet of Things continues to grow, with billions more connected devices appearing every year, 5G wireless technology enables more connections to be made with faster internal/external system communication. And lastly, it is believed that 5G network bands will possess global compatibility, effectively providing international service without roaming fees or expensive costs.

Rob Webber
Rob Webber

Rob has 15+ years experience in the US and UK running price comparison sites for cell phone plans, smartphone deals, TV, and internet. He loves thinking outside of the box to build tools that empower consumers to make more informed decisions.

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