You’ve probably heard that cell network providers are soon going to be offering a 5G connection, but what is 5G and how is it different than 4G? This new connection is the fifth generation of wireless network technology that will be making its way to cities around the world in 2020. As of today, all four major US cellular providers have some form of 5G in select areas of the country.
Before we can discuss this technology’s applications, however, let’s start with an understanding of the first generation of wireless service, now known as 1G, which was the technology that initially made phones capable of making calls with the use of cellular data. Next was 2G, where phones unrolled additional services such as voicemail and SMS (i.e. text messaging). Then came 3G, which saw higher data transfer rates thereby enabling users to access the internet, share images and utilize GPS location-tracking. Today, most phones access the 4G network which utilizes broadband internet to increase the functionality of smartphones and has allowed for the rapid development of “smart devices” such as remote controlled thermostats and the Apple Watch.
The new 5G network will deliver faster downloading capabilities and have a much lower lag rate. 5G will also revolutionize smart technologies — such as self-driving cars and devices comprising the Internet of Things (IoT) — enhancing their speed, responsiveness and ability to connect to multiple other devices simultaneously. This new speed means that applications that depend on essentially instantaneous response and data analysis will operate like never before; mobile gaming will have crystal clear graphics, Augmented Reality (AR) technologies can integrate data in real-time, and whole industries could be run remotely.
Ronan Dunne, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the Verizon Consumer Group, is so impressed by the promises of this new technology that he believes its widespread implementation will usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution. In fact, Dunne has said that “[Verizon’s] 5G Ultra Wideband isn’t just another iteration of wireless innovation… the potential of the fifth generation of wireless technology demands that we fundamentally rethink what can be done on a wireless platform.”
According to an article by PCMag, the beginnings of 5G won’t be much different than 4G, but by 2021 or 2022, there are expected to be many apps relying on the lightning speeds promised by this new network. Beyond cell phones, 5G could make home networks exponentially faster as well. Currently, home internet from cell providers isn’t incredibly popular, because the available bandwidth simply isn’t enough to accommodate the amount of data the average household requires.
Instead of continuing with the current Fiber Optic Systems (FiOS) on the market, 5G could allow FiOS to become available through cell networks instead of physical fiber optic lines connected house-by-house. This means that providers would only need to install fiber optics to a cell site every few blocks, and then give customers wireless modems that tap into this FiOS. This would likely dramatically increase the number of Americans with access to FiOS, since it would become as widely available as the carrier’s coverage network. Household 5G could be on the market as early as the end of 2020, but is more likely to be available in 2021 alongside widespread 5G networks.