As 5G Rolls Out, a Look at What’s Ahead
The introduction continues, but slowly
In the ever-advancing world of cellular technology, 5G is the latest iteration that promises big changes for industry and individual users. As 5G finally rolls out more fully in the U.S. during 2022, its advantages, and risks, become more apparent.
A brief summary of 5G technology
We’ve been hearing marketing messages for 5G for years now, but what is it really?
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks. Service areas are divided into small geographical sections called cells. Fixed antennas connect 5G wireless devices within a cell with a base station, called a gNodeBs, which are connected to switching centers in the network. 5G can support vastly more devices in an area compared to 4G.
5G networking and millimeter waves
Important to the discussion of 5G technology is the use of millimeter waves, which gives 5G higher capacity and higher throughputs. The downfall is millimeter waves have a shorter range and have trouble passing through solid objects like trees and buildings. So, this requires smaller and more frequent cells along with more antennas. However, millimeter antennas are much tinier than those used in previous cellular technology—sometimes as small as a few centimeters.
Advantages of 5G technology
Greater bandwidth, faster download speeds and easier connection to a variety of devices, even in crowded spaces, are a few of the advantages of 5G technology. Expanded applications in internet-of-things (IoT) and machine learning also benefit from 5G.
5G has lower latency when compared to 4G, creating new possibilities for services that demand nearly instant response time. Cell phone users can open web pages quickly and browse complex sites without the delays of the past.
Healthcare is one industry where 5G’s speed and lack of lag time are proving valuable, including improving telehealth, remote surgery, transferring large medical files, tracking patient movements inside facilities, using wearable devices for real-time monitoring, and promptly getting and delivering treatment information to patients.
Another pertinent aspect to 5G in the U.S. is the frequency band it operates on. The FCC opened up an area of the spectrum called the C-Band. Previously used by large TV satellites, changes in technology allowed FCC rule making to relocate satellites to a different bandwidth, and authorized flexible use of the 3.7–3.98 GHz band for next generation services. For 5G, this is an incredibly desirable portion of bandwidth, delivering both incredibly fast speeds and relatively wide coverage. The FCC then held an auction where telecom companies bid just over $81 billion for over 5,600 C-Band licenses. The top bidders were Verizon and AT&T, which spent $44 billion and $23 billion, respectively.
5G and cybersecurity
5G opens up new cybersecurity risks, which security experts say could lead to increased hacking, ransomware breaches, data theft and other attacks. As 5G connects with more IoT devices, additional vulnerabilities are introduced. A new report from Trend Micro and GSMA Intelligence reveals many companies are ill prepared to handle these enhanced security risks. Consumers face the same risks through their personal 5G devices, and should investigate anti-virus solutions.
Some 4G phones may get a boost, but your 5G phone may not fully be on 5G yet
The 5G network is built on top of existing 4G networks. Both will not only work simultaneously, 4G may see faster speeds and better connections as a side benefit. This is because 4G and 5G can share the same spectrum band (called dynamic spectrum sharing), and carrier aggregation, meaning 4G and 5G signals can travel together. Even though 5G is a stand-alone technology, new advanced features are inherently backward compatible and will also lift the capabilities of 4G.
However, premium 5G speeds (called Ultra Wide-Band) won’t be available to everyone on all plans, even those with 5G capable phones. In January 2022, Verizon confirmed its Do More, Play More, and Get More Unlimited plans have 5G access, as well as Above and Beyond Unlimited plans. Verizon’s entry-level Start Unlimited plan does not include 5G Ultra Wideband at all, nor does other non-unlimited plans. Also, 5G phones sold before 2021 cannot access the full 5G network.
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5G is still a work in progress
There are many promising aspects to 5G, and some that will improve over time. Right now, here are a few limitations.
- Cities and areas and densely populated communities may already benefit from 5G coverage, but it may be years before we see substantial coverage in some rural and remote areas. There is also limited global coverage.
- 5G works over shorter distances than its predecessor, can be blocked by buildings and trees, and can be impacted by weather. These factors all add to the expense, and time lag, to build out 5G tower stations.
- While 5G offers far faster download speeds, upload speeds are not nearly as robust.
- Making a 5G connection is more battery intensive, and some users report more heat emanating from their device while using 5G.
5G is the future
Connectivity is the commodity of today’s society. With immediate connections, download speeds and smart communication with devices far beyond our cell phones, 5G is a game changer over 4G, and will continue to frame the future of connectivity as it becomes broadly deployed worldwide.