To have a proper understanding of “5G” networks, one must understand a few things about mobile networks in general. The “G” in “5G” stands for “Generation,” and, fittingly, it’s the fifth generation in a series of mobile networking technology. Let’s discuss the prior generations before continuing.
1G was used for basic phone calls but was a very weak, insecure signal.
2G was a step up from 1G, adding digital phone calls and messaging, but too slow to manage Internet access in most cases.
3G offered messaging and data on top of 2G, bringing about a better mobile Internet experience. 3.5G enhances this further, bringing the standard to the level of low-end broadband Internet.
4G offered full IP services, with an even faster broadband connection with lower latency compared to previous generations. The peak speed of this standard is 1Gbps, which translates to between 1Mbps and 10Mbps for consumers.
5G’s goal is to be the ultimate wireless experience – we’re talking wireless speeds of 10Mbps to 100Mbps and higher.
There are some technicalities around the implementation of 4G technologies. For instance, the fact that most technologies called 4G don’t exactly fit. But the short version is 5G is meant to be the next big step in cellular data standards. If you’re like me, this begs a few questions.
Note: My main source for most of the information presented in this article comes from GSMA Intelligence’s excellent “Understanding 5G” Whitepaper. The technically-minded are more than welcome to take a look.
Why do we need 5G?
Reading the articles you see online or hearing the buzz, you’ll hear quotes to the tune of anywhere from 1 to 20Gbps in speed going to mobile devices that support the 5G standard.
While this is technically possible and has been done, these kinds of speeds are highly unlikely in a populated cellular network. I highly doubt we’re going to see Google Fiber speeds in our pockets on a national scale anytime soon. Cell carriers are notably unreliable about their speeds. Tech might change, but businesses don’t.
That being said, proper 5G implementation could be the wireless standard to surpass broadband altogether. A strong enough 5G network could forgo the need for rolling out lines of copper and fiber to get Internet access to areas without them. Rolling out new infrastructure can be difficult in that manner, but towers and devices that support 5G can forgo the need for that entirely.
5G will enable more powerful services on mobile networks. Real-time gaming on the go, large video downloads and uploads are the first things that come to mind, but the possibilities stretch further beyond that. Self-driving cars, AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) also become possible at this high level.
The reason why all of these new implementations suddenly become possible isn’t because of raw download speed, either: it’s because of latency. Past wireless standards have high levels of latency, especially 2G and 3G. 4G introduces the point where low-latency Internet becomes possible on a wireless connection, but 5G marks the point where that latency matches the highest-end broadband seen on the market today.
When will it become a standard?
Verizon is already starting to roll out tests, but the general consensus seems to be that we can expect this technology to start rolling out commercially in 2020. That’s four years from the time of writing, early 2016, and things could very well change in the meantime.
A true 5G network will enable the highest-end networking tasks on the go. In truth, the possibilities this opens up are honestly beyond me. We don’t really know what new, disruptive things will become possible with the new technology until we see it for ourselves.
What do you think 5G will bring to the world? Scroll down and tell us what you think this technology could mean for you or the world at large.