What Is 5G and What Does It Mean for You?

Oct 10 | By Scott Harvey

The future is here . . . sort of.

5G—the fifth (and latest) generation of cellular networks—has started to emerge in the commercial and consumer markets. Carriers have been releasing fixed 5G and mobile 5G in select cities, and more comprehensive rollouts are expected throughout 2019. A full 66% of organizations already have plans to deploy 5G by 2020, despite the tech not being widely rolled out yet.

So what’s all the buzz about? What exactly does 5G mean? And how will 5G change consumers’ lives?

Here’s what you need to know.

Defining 5G

A new cellular generation rolls out around every 10 years. 5G (not to be confused with 5GHz) is shorthand describing the fifth generation of mobile broadband technology. Just as 4G replaced 3G before it, 5G will eventually replace (or at the very least augment) 4G LTE networks.

Each generation of mobile networks makes new growth in technology possible. The same is expected for 5G networks—though the most significant advancements and applications likely won’t be seen for a few years. 

What Are the Benefits of 5G?

The new cellular network standard will have numerous benefits and applications for individual consumers as well as private and commercial organizations.

High Speed

One of the biggest differences between 5G and 4G is speed. 5G will largely operate on the cloud, reducing (if not entirely eliminating) the need for cables. This will give 5G significantly faster speeds—up to 20 times faster than current 4G networks. 

Exactly how fast 5G will be depends on the carrier, location, and time of adoption. Verizon says its 5G network could offer peak speeds of 10 Gbps, though that number won’t be the norm for a while yet. Practical tests of various providers’ 5G networks have hit speeds of a few hundred Mbps up to 1 Gbps or so—which is still significantly faster than most 4G connections.  

Low Latency

But 5G isn’t just about speed. 5G was designed to reduce latency (or lag) and improve data connection.

For instance, when you conduct an internet search, there may be a slight delay between when you issue the command and when the server sends data back to answer your query. That delay is called latency.

Ultimately, 5G seeks to reduce that lag to a few milliseconds. The result is a faster, more reliable connection.

Increased Bandwidth

Another benefit of 5G is increased bandwidth. Bandwidth is the data capacity of a network connection.

In other words, more bandwidth means more data can be reliably transmitted. If you’ve ever experienced a slow connection at a concert or other crowded public event, you’ll appreciate the 5G experience, which will essentially eliminate this phenomenon. 

Technological Advancements

Faster speeds, lower latency, and reliable connections are crucial for supporting and advancing emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, virtual reality, live online gaming, and even self-driving cars, which rely on fast, smooth connections to the internet.

5G will help these technologies progress at previously unseen rates, while unlocking potential for other as-yet undiscovered technologies and applications. 

What Are the Potential Disadvantages of 5G?

With any new technology, there are pros and cons. While 5G networks will usher in exciting advancements and improved service, there are a couple potential risks.

Reduced Coverage

One drawback to increased bandwidth on 5G networks is the potential for spottier coverage. 5G will operate on a frequency spectrum between 30 and 300 GHz.

This frequency allows 5G to accommodate more users and bandwidth. However, these will be shorter wavelengths than previous network generations, meaning they cannot travel long distances or easily travel through walls or dense foliage.

As bandwidth requirements increase, cell towers’ service radii will shrink to handle the increased burden. Eventually, network providers plan to build a broad infrastructure of small cell tower installations. But in the short term, this could mean less coverage for mobile users until service providers build more towers to accommodate the higher bandwidth needs.

Security Concerns

5G’s security isn’t perfect. One major concern centers on location privacy. As noted above, 5G will require a denser network of towers to communicate signals, which means that it’ll be easier to pinpoint exactly where a given user is when sending or receiving data.

Beyond location tracking, typical security issues and vulnerabilities may still exist on 5G networks, but it’ll take time and trial to uncover them.

When Can I Start Using 5G?

Though 5G isn’t widely available yet, it will be soon. As ISPs continue to fine-tune their 5G technologies, broader consumer markets should expect to see widespread 5G products within a couple years.

Though 5G is still in its infancy, it is already making an impact. It’s exciting to see how the power of 5G will empower a new wave of technology and enhanced day-to-day functions.

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