5G: It’s Way More Than an Upgrade
Here’s what’s ahead as the next generation of wireless gets started
Each generation of wireless technology has resulted in increased speeds, reliability and signal clarity. Expect something entirely different from the fifth generation (the “G” in your current 3G or 4G LTE wireless service). This is not an upgrade or boost in signal strength, it’s a whole other wavelength.
In a nutshell, 5G is different because it taps into a much higher frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum than current communication devices. 5G is anticipated to provide data transmission speeds up to 100 times faster than what is currently available. But is not without a few downfalls to overcome, including a smaller transmission pattern.
In July 2016, the U.S. became the first nation to allocate a large swath of airwaves for 5G using millimeter wave frequencies are between 30 and 300 gigahertz, compared to bands below 6 GHz that were used for mobile devices in the past. The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to allow wireless providers access to this spectrum. 5G services that were anticipated to roll-out by 2020 are already becoming available.
Verizon was the first to market in the U.S., beginning a rollout of home 5G broadband service in October, 2018 to Sacramento, Los Angeles, Houston, and Indianapolis. The company will follow that with mobile 5G service, with plans to expand deployments in 2019 and beyond. Other wireless carriers are hot on their heels.
Connection Density. Carriers are thrilled with 5G because of the possible connection density—way more people can be on the network without it being bogged down.
Reliability. Not only will 5G move data much faster, it will greatly improve reliability of VoIP applications such as video conferencing. Imagine making stunningly clear 4K or even 8K video calls with a stable two-way live video stream. Businesses could download and upload massive files with ease, and work remotely on projects accessing large amounts of data and connecting with distributed teams.
Economic Impact. “By 2035, 5G will enable $12.3 trillion of global economic output and support 22 million jobs worldwide,” said Ronan Dunne, Executive Vice President and Group President of Verizon Wireless. “Much of that growth will come from the digitization of transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and other physical industries.”
The industry will spend about $56 billion to develop, test and deploy 5G services in the U.S. through 2025, according to IGR, a wireless market-strategy consulting firm.
Latency. Another benefit is elimination of latency, or lag time. 5G is capable of hitting around 1- or 2-millisecond response times. Your current home wireless connection is likely 10 to 100 times less responsive. To put that in perspective, 5G could download a full feature-length movie in the time it takes you to read this sentence. Faster response times will also make video games more realistic and help smart home features and IoT devices work more seamlessly. Security systems would get a boost, transmitting live, high definition video of what is in front of the camera, with no delay. A faster and more stable network is seen as a foundation for trends such as self-driving cars and automated machinery using artificial intelligence.
Battery capacity. Some applications, such as smart home devices and security locks, will have an issue with battery capacity. Power consumption for various 5G transmissions range from 100 to 500 milliwatts—far greater than the power consumption of the Bluetooth-transmitting devices. So, while devices connected to a power source can benefit from 5G, those that operate on consumer installed batteries may have to wait for an updated solution.
Limited transmission area. Until recently, the millimeter spectrum was thought to be of little use to communications because it can’t carry data very far—approximately 820 feet. Technological advances have made it possible to expand consumer wireless services into those airwaves. But to use the spectrum, wireless companies will have to install hundreds of thousands of small base stations, called small cells. Ranging in size from a smoke detector to a pizza box, small cells can be placed on utility poles and buildings to pass along the signals.
5G may be an issue in rural areas, as the number of small cells required to build a 5G network may make it hard to set up.
As citizens see a massive amount of 5G antennas being installed, many have health concerns. There are scant scientifically valid studies, however, on the health risks of cell phone use.
A working group of the World Health Organization classified cell phone use as “possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on limited evidence from human studies, limited evidence from studies of radiofrequency radiation and cancer in rodents, and inconsistent evidence from mechanistic studies.”
One of the issues in assessing health risk is there is no data for 5G. All positions cited on the U.S. Government’s National Cancer Institute’s website is based on 3G and 4G data. Further studies should be encouraged.
People concerned about electromagnetic exposure can use a headphone to keep the wireless device away from the body.
It will be a while before 5G fully takes over since infrastructure is still being put in place. Perhaps the industry will have adequate time to address some of the drawbacks, as the lightning-fast connectivity and massive data handling of 5G is a game changer for individuals and many industries.