what is 5G? How does 5G work? 5G at our fingertips

In today’s day and age, everyone can agree that a speedier internet connection is a better one. More and more devices are being built with wireless capabilities. It’s not just phones and computers, but TVs, fridges, washers and dryers, and many other electronics that are all vying for your limited internet connection.

That’s why it’s no surprise that large players in the mobile industry are racing to roll out a broader infrastructure that can accommodate all of these new devices. Cue the release of 5G.


What is 5G? The evolution of mobile networks

The “G” in 5G stands for “generation”. This means 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks. It’s easier to explain if each generation is put into perspective.

To start with, we had 0G, which was mainly used in mobile radio telephone systems. These were mainly mounted in cars and trucks, and they came out shortly after WWII.

0G evolved into 1G, which processed voice as an analog signal. Not long after, 2G was introduced, which was a digital network. It enabled data services for devices including text, picture, and multimedia messages. After 2G came 2.5G (GPRS) and 2.75G (EDGE), which created a faster network for data transfer.

Out of 2G came 3G, in 1998. This may start to be sounding familiar now. 3G enabled data services to be used in mobile devices, allowing users to access the internet.

4G was announced in 2008, and it offered faster data speeds, along with a more reliable network. People could send text messages and browse the internet without any issues. With 4G though, two competing technologies emerged: WiMax and LTE (Long-Term Evolution). Both had the same goals, yet more companies decided to implement LTE, so WiMax slowly faded away.

All of these generations built up to the next iteration of mobile networks: 5G.


How fast will 5G be?

Currently, 4G LTE allows consumers to browse the web, download movies and apps, and watch videos at about 100 mbps on average. That means it would take about 30 minutes to download an HD movie. While higher speeds can be achieved on 4G LTE, most users won’t experience above 100mbps as the signal can be disrupted by a range of things such as buildings and signals from other devices.

5G on the other hand, hopes to top out speeds at about 10 gigabits per second. This would enable users to download full HD movies in mere seconds. Yet this is just a speculative number for right now, as 5G technologies are still in the trial and testing phases. Realistically, we won’t see 5G roll out commercially until 2020 or later.


So how does 5G work?

Carriers and large brands alike are working with communications boards in multiple continents to develop infrastructure and laws regarding 5G technologies.

Recently, the European Union struck a deal to open up more bandwidths on the spectrum to make room for 5G, and it looks like other countries are following suit.

Usually when a new generation of mobile networks is released, it will be given a higher place on the radio frequency. The reason for this is two-fold: one, because higher frequency bands are typically unoccupied, and two, because the higher bands transfer data at a much faster rate.

However placing 5G on higher frequency bands doesn’t come without its downsides. One major pitfall with higher frequencies is that they have with a lower wavelength. This means the higher frequency signals won’t be able to travel as far as 4G signals, and they will have less power to penetrate through solid objects.

Since 5G signals won’t be able to travel as far as their parent technologies, more infrastructure will be required to spread the signal further. This infrastructure will come in the form of Multiple-Input  Multiple-Output (MIMO) systems (using multiple radios to send and receive data), and small cells (small cellphone towers that can be placed on rooftops in clusters).

We will likely see pockets of 5G start to appear first in major cities. As infrastructure is deployed and 5G signal conditions are met, coverage will become more widespread.


When will 5G be available to everyone?

For right now, experts are saying that 5G won’t be available commercially until 2020 or later. Yet that’s not stopping big telecom companies from racing to be the first ones to deploy the new technology.

We already got a glimpse of the competition from MWC 2018, where Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile announced their plans to develop 5G networks across the US. Each company will be starting with small test markets, but will gradually build out their networks to more consumers.

We will most likely see 5G implemented in our homes first. With companies like Samsung developing 5G-capable home routers, we should expect to see 5G very soon.


We should expect to see 5G very soon


Yet leaders in the race for 5G technologies are saying that the new generation of mobile networks won’t aim to completely replace Wi-Fi or 4G networks, at least not yet.

5G does have the added benefit of not requiring any copper or optic cables, instead relying entirely on the radio spectrum, but Wi-Fi is still a dominating technology at home. And companies have 4G coverage almost everywhere nowadays, but 5G will be slow to roll out. In other words, don’t expect Wi-Fi or 4G to disappear for awhile.


Applications of 5G

This is our favorite part of the release of 5G technologies. With the deployment of the new generation of mobile networks comes huge opportunities.

5g networks powering virtual reality headsets


Self-driving cars

As self-driving cars are increasingly becoming more prevalent, it will be essential that a network with low latency (more responsiveness) and more reliability serves them.

It’s already predicted that self-driving cars will share signal data, files, and media to other self-driving cars and devices using 5G.

Mobile devices

There are millions of new mobile devices being produced every year that will all need a space on our mobile networks. 5G enables a broader infrastructure that can accommodate these devices.

Asha Keddy, GM of mobile standards for advance tech at Intel says:

“With 5G, we’ll see computing capabilities getting fused with communications everywhere, so trillions of things like wearable devices don’t have to worry about computing power because (the) network can do any processing needed.”


Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

The current 4G network we have limits the full power of VR and AR. 4G doesn’t have the bandwidth, latency, and reliability that both of these technologies need. Experts claim that 5G will change that.

The existing inputs for VR and AR can put a lot of strain on a network, especially if the user is on the move or has poor signal quality. According to ABI research, 5G will have “a 10X improvement in throughput, a 10X decrease in latency, a 100X improvement in traffic capacity, and a 100X improvement in network efficiency” over 4G networks.

All of these will help to improve AR and VR technologies in multiple areas, including:

  • Autonomous vehicles (think heads-up displays and real-time mapping)
  • Live streaming events and sports
  • New video formats will be more data-intensive, requiring a faster and more reliable network

New industries will surely sprout from the upgrades that the 5G network has planned as well.


While there’s still a lot speculation, we know for sure that 5G technology will be huge. It will transform industries and improve technologies for the better. What do you think 5G technology will help us accomplish in the future? Let us know in the comments!



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