From all indicators, 2019 will be the year of 5G. AT&T, Verizon and other major carriers each intend to launch 5G network products this year, opening the technology up to households and businesses galore.
And though most tech enthusiasts are eagerly waiting to sign up for the service, the average person is likely still a little unsure about just what 5G is and how it can benefit them.
What is 5G?
In the past, cellular activity has been divided by each generation’s data transmission speeds.
Each “G” also featured a break in the encoding method so that no past generation would be compatible with the next. With each new major development came a change to how wireless technology functioned:
- 1G was strictly analog cellular. But it was a beginning.
- 2G featured a mish-mash of protocols, including CDMA, GSM and TDMA. They were the first digital cellular technologies.
- 3G, tech that is still the only way some rural households connect to cellular, increased speeds to a few megabits per second. That’s not super fast by today’s standard, but is still usable for many applications.
- 4G is the protocol that today’s faster cellular technology utilizes, supporting speeds in the gigabits.
5G, like all the Gs before it, supports higher data transfer speeds, but that’s not all. It also includes lower latency times (making it more responsive for things that need immediate feedback, like self-driving cars) and the ability to connect a whole world of additional devices, which should allow the Internet of Things to really thrive.
Real World Impacts of 5G
It’s not always that easy to see how a faster cellular network is going to do much other than let people stream more YouTube videos without buffering, but the reality here is that 5G is a big deal. And, really, the biggest deal isn’t the speed (though that does help), it’s the way the technology works.
Above it was mentioned that latency times will be lower and the maximum number of connections higher. There’s a lot of technology that civilization has been waiting on that is going to be able to be more readily produced because of this breakthrough.
Going back to the example of the self-driving car, this is something that’s been in the works for years. While road tests are going reasonably well for a car that’s just learning how to drive itself, there have been a few very alarming accidents. Had the car been able to more quickly communicate with the network that helps it make decisions, there’s a chance at least some could have been averted.
The Internet of Things is another area where a faster, more flexible network would make a huge difference. Telemedicine has been slow to catch on, despite the technology being in place and the doctors being willing to give it a try. Sometimes the problem comes in when trying to transfer data that’s image-intense, like MRI results. Emergency medicine is an area where telemedicine could make a huge difference to wait times and care levels, but the doctor on the other side of that screen has to be able to access tests and labs on the fly.
Not only would 5G make it so your fridge could more easily reach you to remind you to buy milk, but it would also allow that connected doctor to save lives in emergency rooms that might be hundreds or thousands of miles apart in the same night.
Is 5G Going to Replace WiFi?
Maybe. Since it hasn’t been widely launched yet, it’s going to take time to see just how well it performs under real life loads and, frankly, what the cost will be. Customers are always more likely to adopt new technology when it saves them money while doing, on the surface anyway, the same thing as what they’re leaving behind.
For people living in difficult to penetrate, rural areas, 5G could provide access to a reliable Internet connection and a telephone solution that doesn’t cut out every time someone crosses a bridge. Even in areas where 3G is usable, coverage can be really spotty. Theoretically, 5G cellular service will be much more reliable because of the way it works. The same goes for that 5G Internet connection versus things like satellite Internet.
But, like any technology, it’s going to take the familiarity that experience breeds to win the hearts and minds of the public. 5G is coming, like it or not, but popularity may decide how quickly that happens.