With 5G, we are on the cusp of a major enhancement to the mobile wireless ecosystem. Connectivity, bandwidth, and reliability are likely to see a quantum leap in the next few years.
The Great American lockdown on account of Covid-19 has only served to emphasize the precarious nature of internet connections in many areas, and how important connectivity is to our way of life. Major internet carriers are expediting their infrastructure build-outs for 5G to meet the growing demand for remote work.
What is 5G?
5G is the next iteration of the mobile network standard after 4G. Simply put, 5G will allow a much higher multi-Gbps peak data speed, while allowing for new and unique uses of mobile technologies that were heretofore not possible.
McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, 25% of the world’s population, or 2 billion people, will be covered with 5G.
How is 5G different from 4G?
First, 5G is significantly faster than 4G – 25 Gigabits per second compared to 100 Megabits per second. Next, 5G has 100x more traffic capacity and efficiency when compared with 4G. Finally, and this matters, 5G has a 10x decrease in latency, and thus can deliver more real-time access as the world moves increasingly to streaming video.
How many types of 5G are there?
There are three bands of 5G:
- Millimeter-wave is also known as mmWave. This type of connection is super-fast (1 Gbps and above), but suffers from issues with heat, distances, and penetrating buildings. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T use this version.
- Low band 5G is used by AT&T and T-Mobile. This does not offer the speeds of mmWave, but it gets better coverage and seems to work fine indoors and in penetrating buildings.
- Mid band 5G is used by Sprint and T-Mobile. It is a good compromise between the other two, providing good speed and better coverage than millimeter wave.
Going forward carriers are looking to incorporate multiple bands of 5G. Speed is the obvious benefit of 5G. However, experts think that latency advantages (almost 20X compared to 4G), will drive much of the innovation. Latency is the delay you experience when you are, for example, on a Zoom call.
When will 5G be available?
5G is currently available in over 30 countries in the world. South Korea is one of the leaders and already has over 6 million 5G subscribers. Less than a year after launch, 21% of all mobile traffic in South Korea is already on 5G.
5G service is currently available on all major carriers in the USA. All carriers have committed to deploying all bands of 5G. This means all 5G connections will not be equal. As they say, your-mileage-may-vary.
Costs will vary but are likely to be between $ 60-90 per line/month. Before you make the switch to 5G, ask your carrier about its return policy, particularly if later you are not getting acceptable 5G speeds. As with all technologies, early adopters will pay a premium.
Verizon launched the first 5G service in the world in October 2018, but that was a fixed broadband replacement, rather than a mobile service. As of June 2020, Verizon has mmWave 5G coverage in 35 US cities and expanding to 60 cities by the end of 2020. Verizon calls its mmWave network “5G Ultra-Wideband” (5G UWB).
Word of caution: Apple uses “Ultra-Wideband” for some of its iPhone models – which have nothing to do with 5G.
T-Mobile & Sprint:
T-Mobile was the first to turn on 5G in a nationwide network in the USA late in 2019. With its acquisition of Sprint, it has expanded that network. T-Mobile currently offers low band coverage for 225 million Americans and has only one flavor called simply 5G.
AT&T expects to have a nationwide network by the end of summer 2020. AT&T currently covers 120 million Americans with the low band 5G. They have 3 flavors: 5GE, 5G, and 5GPlus. Yes, it can get confusing. 5GE is not even 5G and they are being asked to stop advertising it as such. 5G is the low and mid-band version and the only 5GPlus is the 5G on mmWave.
The carriers are rapidly expanding the number of cities and the flavors of 5G they are offering. Check their websites for the latest information. And watch out for marketing slights of hand. 5G also comes as 5G NR, 5G SA, 5G NSA, etc. Try and align the monikers with the bands being used.
Will I need a new phone for 5G?
To use 5G, you will need a new phone that supports 5G. Apple expects to have 5G phones, but it is not likely in 2020. In the meantime, there are many devices available from a variety of other vendors including OnePlus, Motorola, LG, Sony, Samsung, etc. Don’t expect to see anything from Huawei in this country anytime soon.
How 5G will change your life?
5G is not just an upgrade from 4G. It has the prospect of being transformative.
Internet of Things:
The promise of IoT is likely to become a reality with 5G. According to a recent McKinsey study, we should expect to see 43 billion connected devices by 2023. Expect to see improving efficiency, lowered costs, and improved quality across manufacturing and industry. 5G and IoT have the potential to create truly smart cities by integrating AI and IoT.
AI and Extended Reality (XR):
These technologies on 5G will impact and revolutionize healthcare, retail, tourism, and education in substantial ways. For example, according to Rajan Patel (Senior Director of Engineering at Google Augmented Reality), your 5G powered smartphone would allow you to superimpose furniture in a store into your room, while you shop, and give you a look at how the object would look, complete with all measurements rendered via AI.
In the case of health care, 5G is the pathway to tele-health and digital therapeutics, allowing patients to get treated at home with the help of VR, AR, etc.
Once it is rolled out nationwide, 5G is expected to neutralize some of the internet disparity between rural and urban areas. 5G also provides a wireless alternative to wired internet in homes and businesses.
5G combined with AI would be able to show you a sports event from every angle and zoom in to your favorite angles and offer an experience that is currently not possible. Watching TV is likely to thus become more immersive.
The use of video, which is about 70% of the internet traffic now, is expected to increase to over 80% by 2035 – most of which will be part of the mobile experience.
5G networks will allow for better Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) transmissions, which in turn will allow cars to share data on traffic patterns, routes, speeds, parking meters, etc. Some are seeing the imminent demise of traffic lights as cars become autonomous and do not need a human to speed past the limit.
The bad actors will exploit 5G implementations. For example, IoT devices have been notoriously weak in good security protocols. As more devices are deployed, the prospect of autonomous vehicles, kitchen appliances, and healthcare products being compromised, is likely to become far more prevalent.
Edge computing is the process of bringing compute, storage, and networking closer to apps, devices, and users. 5G will allow computing and processing to be brought “forward”, reducing latency, and allowing applications to be relocated to smaller devices e.g. mobile phones. This in turn gets closer to real-time processing of data and the relegation of “offline” computing to a bygone era.
Remote operations due to Covid-19 are accelerating the edge computing growth cycle. “We are now the edge,” said Matt Price, senior director of IoT engineering and operations with Cisco. “We’ve moved all of the compute and networking resources that used to sit in all of our offices out to the edge.”
How will 5G impact the economy?
By some estimates, by 2034, the 5G global economy is likely to create $1.2 trillion to $2.2 trillion in economic output and over 22 million new jobs. Half of the additional value produced is expected in developing countries like India. The 5G boost to retail alone is expected to be almost $ 700 billion by decade’s end.
So, ready, or not, here comes 5G. And, because technology stops for no one, 6G will be along around 2030.
Yes, I am serious.
Most improvements that you see with 5G are likely to be improved with 6G. China, Japan and South Korea are leaders in the race to 6G.
But first, let’s deal with 5G….