The Complete Guide to 5G
By Courtney · January 7, 2018
As companies have announced 5G testing and other related initiatives, smart phone users have begun wondering about 5G, the next generation of Internet. Part of this is because mobile data use has exploded. After all, in 2015 alone, mobile data increased by 74 percent. So what is 5G, and why does it matter? Read on to find out.
What’s the difference between 4G and 5G?
5G should be a significant upgrade from 4G LTE services, but "should" is the important word here. Several international governing bodies, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), set the standards for each generation of technology, which they abbreviate with a G. So, for example, 4G (4th generation) was a significant upgrade from 3G, and, before that, 3G was a significant upgrade from 2G. A new generation comes out approximately every 10 years. So 1G, the 1st generation, came out all the way back in 1982, followed by 2G in 1991. 4G LTE, which is what most phones use now, is a more advanced system from just 4G, but it is not a big enough upgrade for it to be called 5G.
The problem is that the ITU and 3GPP have not officially set a standard for what constitutes 5G yet. They plan to do so by 2020. It’s not unusual for these governing bodies to do so retroactively, after the technology has been rolled out several years earlier.
In fact, based on ITU and 3GPP standards, most things marketed as 4G do not qualify. Only certain versions of 4G LTE actually qualify as 4G.
That said, technology experts agree that true 5G will use multiple new technologies that are not in wide use yet, including Massive MIMO, which uses multiple antennas at the base station and on individual devices themselves to increase speeds. 5G networks may juggle more and smaller cells. These cells may even change size. It will probably take time to connect these different technologies together in a way that makes everything seamless for users. Some of these new technologies will require building a new infrastructure to support them.
So then what speed is 5G?
The wireless industry believes that once 5G is installed, it will be 10 to 100 times faster than 4G. It will mean that you will be able to download 10 gigabits per second. Nokia claims to have tested 5G that can download 30 gigabits per second, which would make it 1,000 times faster than 4G.
Experts also believe 5G will have less latency, or lag, than 4G. Some believe this will mean, for example, that you will be able to download an entire HD movie in just moments.
However, when using your cell phone out in the real world, 5G may not feel any different from 4G LTE. For example, tall trees, large buildings, and your distance from a cell tower, will probably slow down your signal.
What will 5G look like?
5G will make it easier to download large amounts of data. Imagine that 4G is a normal sized door: one person can get through easily, but if you try to push too much through, the door will get clogged. 5G will be like a gigantic hallway that allows lots of people to move at once without getting clogged up.
In practice, 5G will make it easier for Internet-enabled devices, like special refrigerators and coffee pots, to stay connected. Some experts believe that 5G will make robotic surgery possible. Finally, experts believe that 5G will also make self-driving cars and delivery drones more efficient.
Moreover, 5G infrastructure will be different. Because of how 5G is designed, it will need antennas that are significantly closer together than the cell towers that we currently have. That means you’ll be seeing small antennas everywhere.
5G will also change your phones themselves. 5G enabled phones will need to have different antennas inside them. 5G phones are also expected to use less power, meaning you won’t have to charge your phone as often.
When is 5G coming?
Some companies have announced that they are going to start testing 5G in certain cities starting in late 2018. Most experts agree that 5G won’t become common until at least 2019 or 2020. A representative from Ericsson, which has begun making some of the hardware that 5G will use, says that 5G will start out in fixed “hotspots” before becoming widespread. And even if 5G does become more common, some rural areas will continue using 4G.
I’ve heard that both Verizon and AT&T now offer 5G. Is Verizon 5G different from AT&T 5G?
It’s unclear, but probably. AT&T 5G Evolution is not actually 4G. It is an advanced form of 4G LTE and an improvement on what AT&T was previously offering, but it does not qualify as a significant step up from 4G to be called 5G.
Verizon, on the other hand, has also announced it is testing 5G, but since they haven’t released information about what speeds they will be using, it is unclear that it is actually a significant step up from previous 4G LTE technology. In a press release, Verizon says it is testing Massive MIMO, which was one of the things experts believe 5G will have to use. Even if you are in the testing site, which is in Sacramento, California, you will still have to pay extra and it is currently only available for your home, not outside.
The most important thing is this: AT&T 5G Evolution is not true 5G, just an upgrade. Verizon probably isn’t offering 5G yet either, but has started to test more advanced systems that will probably lead to 5G in the future.
What phones support 5G?
Right now, none do. Companies are not making 5G phones yet because there are not any 5G networks yet. Some companies are already in the development process, but it is too early to purchase these things.
You shouldn’t go out and buy a new cell phone yet. It will probably be at least 2019 before that will be necessary, and even then, only if your region has set down the proper infrastructure to do so.
If you're having problems today with your cellular signal and are looking for faster data speeds and better voice calls, check out our best cell phone signal boosters for a solution that you can implement today.