Even if you don’t pay much attention to when the details of technology change, you’ve probably noticed that mobile carriers promote their 4G networks — today’s top mobile speeds — and how that’s a step up from the 3G network they used to promote. Well, hang onto your hats, because yes, 5G is coming.
First, what do all the numbers and Gs mean? 4G stands for 4th generation, the current mobile standard that modern smartphones use to connect. In theory, you could get speeds as high as 100mbps on a 4G network, but that’s unlikely in the real world. Nonetheless, today’s phones and modern networks often operate at speeds we couldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago when smartphones started to become ubiquitous. For many of us, our smartphones today seem about as fast as our home networks.
But in many parts of the United States, our home networks are on the verge of a revolution of their own, as more carriers start to offer gigabit (or higher) speed. And the 5G standard will be a similar shift on the mobile network front — lots faster.
While 5G networks are still under development, and will be for at least a couple more years before U.S. carriers start to offer these speeds commercially, what’s the benefit of dramatically higher speeds to us?
Living in the future
While today we expect to have information, and even large files (like HD movies) at our fingertips in just a few minutes, a 5G network will make truly immersive connected experiences possible. (And yes, you’ll be able to get that full-length movie onto your tablet in just a few seconds over a 5G mobile network.)
Virtual reality games (and other VR experiences), driverless cars, truly connected homes — these will become the kinds of seamless experiences we’ve only imagined in the movies. 5G networks will have ultra-fast speeds and latency (the lag time between when you click and something happens) that will be measured in a millisecond or two. The network will likely seem instantaneous for most of the things you do.
Barriers to overcome
It seems likely that at least some of the promise of a high-speed 5G network will come from using higher frequency bandwidth, but that will mean the need for more base stations and improved antenna technology as well. Getting from today to the network of the future requires lots of infrastructure upgrades for mobile carriers over the next few years. Standardization is another huge hurdle, whereas determining interoperability and backward compatibility (4G, 3G) stand at the forefront and require multiple carriers and companies to agree on such.
When? I’m ready!
Industry analysts seem to think we’ll see 5G in the United States in the 2020 timeframe, and major carriers are working on the details now. The 5G standard has not yet been fully defined, and industry discussions will likely continue for 2-3 more years.