5 Things You Need to Know About 5G

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5G, the next generation of wireless technology, is nearly upon us. With the first specs now established and multiple carriers announcing plans to launch 5G networks later this year, it’s time to get familiar with all things 5G. Don’t worry though: this won’t be some jargon-laden deep-dive. Instead, we’ll give you the 5 things you need to know about 5G.

What is It?

At its most basic, 5G is simply a set of wireless networking standards—think of them as rules or requirements a network must meet to be called 5G. The G in 5G stands for “generation,” so 5G means this is the fifth generation of such standards. For the most part, each new generation of standards is defined by data transmission, with 1G being the first and slowest and 5G being the latest and fastest. There are other prominent features of 5G—lower latency, support for a larger number of simultaneously connected devices—but really what you need to know is that 5G is the newest generation of cellular networking, and it is going to be crazy fast.

What Do I Use It For?

The new 5G standards require faster data transmission, lower latency, and broader support for simultaneous device connections. For most of us, that translates to faster download times and streaming content with zero or no lag—we’re talking the ability to download 8K movies in seconds, not minutes or hours.

But that’s not all. As 5G networks become more widespread, the range of possibilities will dramatically increase. Consider the moonshot of flying cars. While, currently, the technology to mass produce flying automobiles doesn’t really exist—even if it did, the greater challenge of ensuring safety is nearly insurmountable—namely because of the inherent risk of human fallibility involved. 5G technology could solve that problem because it allows for multiple devices, such as the complicated network of computers and sensors required to make a flying car, to communicate large quantities of data to other devices with basically zero latency, so a flying car could exchange data in real time with other flying cars to eliminate risk factors. That same idea and application will almost certainly be used in future generations of self-driving cars, but that example is also way less cool to talk about.

How Does It Work?

Talking about how 5G works, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Buzzwords like “full duplex” and “beamforming” and “massive MIMO” make it sound more complicated than it really is—at least from a top-level point of view. To understand how it works, all you really need to know is that 5G will broadcast data in a different manner than previous generations. We know it’s going to be done differently because previous generations can’t broadcast data at 5G speeds.

Now, what does that mean—to broadcast differently? Data is transmitted to and from devices across a specific range of bands and frequencies. All you really need to know about these bands and frequencies is that they have certain limitations that allow data to travel only so fast and with a certain amount of latency. 5G is going to surpass those limitations by using a different (in most cases, higher) range of frequencies. Why? One of the main reasons is that higher frequencies are largely uncrowded and thus able to carry more data. How these higher frequencies will be used to transmit data could vary from carrier to carrier (prepare to hear the phrase “millimeter wave” a lot), and likely will involve new devices and technologies (again, “beamforming”), but if anyone asks, saying 5G works by operating on higher, less-crowded frequencies to transmit data faster should suffice.

Who’s Making It?

Basically, anyone who’s anyone wants in on the 5G game. All major carriers are working on some form of 5G deployment, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Manufacturers, too, along with most telecom giants, are also working to build 5G-compatible products and network support. You may have even heard some rumblings about a nationalized 5G network—although, admittedly, that idea is so ill-conceived and impractical I will literally eat my hat if it ever comes to fruition. The main takeaway is that ultimately 5G will be everywhere, so everyone will have access to it in one form or another, regardless of the provider you use or who makes your smartphone.

When Do I Get It?

This depends on who your service provider is, what you want to use it for, where you live, and whether companies can live up to their promises and pledges. AT&T, for example, wants to introduce 5G mobile service in up to a dozen US markets by the end of 2018—but that might be hindered by the lack of 5G-capable phones available when it debuts. Verizon, too, has plans to roll out limited 5G networking in 2018, and Sprint and T-Mobile are planning deployments in 2019. In short, when you get 5G depends on quite a few factors, none of them certain. That’s probably not the set-in-stone answer you were looking for, but it’s unfortunately the truth. As a rule, though, you can expect a limited service and device rollout to start later this year, and full-scale adoption of 5G by 2020.

So, there it is—the 5 most important things you need to know about 5G. To recap: it’s new, it’s fast, it’s coming soon (and theoretically could be used in flying cars). What do you think about this latest advancement in networking technology? Are you excited? Skeptical? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

5 Comments

5G will be a game changer in the lives of all Americans. Flying cars may not become a reality but driverless cars and trucks will be the norm. This will be the end of traffic jams and a sharp decrease in highway accidents.

Hey Tim:

I admire your optimism in believing the circuitry will be significantly more robust than it is now and that web security will be greatly improved but the current track record certainly does NOT bode well. 

Oh sheeeet we have to buy new phones now.

Nice!  These are the exact 5 things I wanted to know about 5G!

Interesting article. Excited for faster donnload speeds, but even more excited for flying cars!!!

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