With all of the industry’s top phones getting 5G, the next-generation wireless technology has entered the mainstream. This is how it affects you.
Carrier 5G networks, and, more importantly, 5G-compatible phones like the iPhone 12 and Pixel 5, are finally here after years of hype and a rocky first year of launches. (Samsung’s next flagship phone, the Galaxy S21, is expected to include 5G as well.) With its revolutionary speed and responsiveness, technology is supposed to change your life. But, before we go there, it’s important to know what it is, when and how it will affect you, and how to tell the difference between (the still-growing) hype and reality.
zag conducted a massive speed test of 5G networks around the world in 2019, spanning cities such as Chicago, London, Sydney, and Seoul. The end result was a mix of insane speeds and limited range and coverage. In contrast, a slight increase in speed would result in greater coverage. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G were also released. Although the early 5G phones boasted impressive speeds, we advised against purchasing them due to compatibility issues and other issues that arise with new technology.
And things have gotten a lot better over the course of 2020. Carriers are continuing to expand 5G coverage into new cities, and new devices that work across multiple networks are being released, with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all announcing nationwide coverage recently. However, when that life-changing aspect of 5G will arrive is still unknown. Even with those stimulus checks, the novel coronavirus has locked down millions of people around the world, slowing the 5G rollout and dampening consumer enthusiasm for pricey new devices.
All of this means that 5G is moving closer to becoming a reality for more people, from Verizon’s announcement four and a half years ago to AT&T’s launch of the first official mobile network at the end of 2018 and T-nationwide Mobile’s launch in December. 5G has been dubbed « foundational technology » because it will supercharge areas like self-driving cars, virtual and augmented reality, and telemedicine services like remote surgery. Everything from farming equipment to security cameras, and, of course, your smartphone, will eventually be connected.
But, exactly, what is 5G? What’s the big deal about this? The reasons why the next generation of wireless technology is more than just a speed boost are outlined below. (If you’re really curious, take a look at our 5G glossary.)
What exactly is 5G?
It’s the next (fifth) generation of cellular technology, and it promises to significantly improve wireless network speed, coverage, and responsiveness. How quickly are we conversing? Carriers such as Verizon and AT&T have demonstrated speeds exceeding 1 gigabit per second.
Is it just about speed?
No! Low latency is one of the most important advantages. This is a term you’ll hear a lot. The response time between when you click on a link or start streaming a video on your phone, which sends the request up to the network, and when the network responds, delivering the website or playing your video, is known as latency.
With today’s networks, that lag time can be as long as 20 milliseconds. It may not seem like much, but 5G reduces latency to as little as 1 millisecond, or about the time it takes a normal camera to flash.
That responsiveness is essential for tasks such as playing a demanding video game in virtual reality or a surgeon in New York controlling a pair of robotic arms performing a procedure in San Francisco. When you’re on a Zoom video conference call, you may notice a slight lag. After people talk over each other, 5G will help eliminate some of those awkward « Sorry, you go ahead » moments. That lag time will persist, especially if you’re communicating with someone on the other side of the world. The distance matters because the data must still travel there and back.
Self-driving cars, on the other hand, will be able to communicate with each other in real time thanks to a virtually lag-free connection, assuming there is enough 5G coverage to connect them.
Existing 5G networks aren’t quite there yet, but the industry is working to reduce latency so that those hypotheticals can become reality.
Are there any other advantages?
A 5G network is designed to connect far more devices than a traditional cellular network. What’s this internet of things craze you’ve been hearing so much about? Whether it’s a dog collar or a refrigerator, 5G can power multiple devices around you.
Furthermore, the 5G network was designed to handle business-related equipment, such as farm equipment or ATMs, and can adapt to changing needs. Some products, such as sensors for farming equipment, do not require a constant connection.