Depending on what side of the fence you currently stand on nowadays, the new 5G technology could be described as the next greatest invention since the internet or it’s the cause of the current Coronavirus pandemic. It will wash your car and put your kids to sleep but then set your house on fire a few hours later after giving your dog a third leg.
The truth is that neither of these things are true. Both sides of the spectrum are far too extreme. Every time that there is a new and innovative technology, there are often expectations that are placed on it that are usually impossible to achieve. Society, for the most part, gets bored easily and they thirst for the next thing to make life seamless and interesting.
There is also the other section of the world that looks to cast negativity on every new thing and attach conspiracy theories to it because it’s easy and requires no fact checking. If you want to deep dive into 5G, you can find plenty of crazy theories from the tin foil hat wearing crowd out there.
I could write a 20 page essay on the facts about 5G but most people including me like to get the bullet points without the fat. In my opinion, there are 2 rather large benefits of 5G that make it worth every penny invested:
Up until now, 4G was all about smartphones. Moving forward, 5G is the network for all the things. What that brings for the first time ever, is complete and instant-delivered reliability.
A guaranteed air time and data rate are critical components of a network. Think of that for a minute with regards to safety and automobiles. You can’t have self-driving cars that don’t transmit data properly.
Cars are an important market for 5G. Imagine smart cities, operating 5G-powered vehicle traffic systems along with 5G management of electrical grids. Who wouldn’t want to improve commute times while also elevating public safety?
How would you like your video content already there on your device immediately when you need it? Nobody loves the spinning “Video loading,” wheel.
Uplink experience will also be vastly improved with 5G. People want to create, instant, live own-media content. High-end quality is something virtually impossible for a consumer to achieve right now on mobile networks. People also want to watch videos while commuting without all the seemingly endless hoops that they need to jump through to get a clean stream.
People need to be able to pause media on the device and then pick it up again on a TV, say, when they get to their destination. The network needs to have the power to handle that.
With the 5G options coming, studios and device manufacturers are already working to figure out that automotive-to-home media delivery solution.
Artists have vast archives of content that can be delivered to listeners in ways that were almost impossible before 5G due to the size and high quality format. The loading times would prohibit this type of data transfer on previous networks.
For the medical industry, this will be nothing short of revolutionary. Think of how important it is to process all the information needed to make life-or-death decisions in the blink of an eye, or for the health care industry to help power the next generation of telemedicine and robotic surgeries. A surgeon in China recently conducted a liver transplant on an animal from a location 30 miles away by controlling a robotic arm running on 5G. The same procedure on a 4G network would have increased the chance for mistakes. It literally cleans up the process because of reliability.
When discussing 5G, the topic that gets the most publicity is the speed of the network. Why is that? Society loves things that go fast. Nobody ever comes home and says “Honey, today was magical, I was stuck in traffic for an hour.”
To put it into a visual model, think about it like lanes on a highway. If 3G is a two-lane highway and 4G is six lanes, 5G will turn it into 12 lanes. It'll handle significantly more traffic and bandwidth with immediate response times for data transfers. In other words, blink you eye and it’s done.
Average download speeds for 5G could easily reach 1GBps. Compared to the miniscule average of 12-30Mbps of 4G. It’s like a Ferrari compared to a tricycle.
The fastest 5G networks are expected to be at least 10 times faster than 4G LTE, according to wireless industry trade group GSMA. Some experts say they could eventually be 100 times faster. That’s fast enough to download a two hour movie in fewer than 10 seconds, versus around 7 minutes with 4G. Actual download speeds will depend on a number of factors, including location and network traffic.
Now that the benefits have been explained, what are the downsides of 5G? Of course but the drawbacks are different and none of them are associated with the zombie apocalypse or any other crazy theory.
Unlike 3G and 4G that had the capability of reaching larger areas, 5G’s reach will be much shorter. You may want it and are ready but it may not be ready for you, yet.
Smaller cells means that more towers will be needed to maintain connectivity. Building more towers will require more construction and that may not always sit with people in congested areas. If you live in an area with wide open spaces then it’s less of an issue.
There are some ideas that will significantly reduce that footprint though. Companies are trying to appease consumers who don’t want to increase the number of cell towers. A lot of existing towers will remain in place and be upgraded to handle the increased amount of bandwidth provided by the new 5G network.
The internet travels across what is called the Radio Spectrum. This isn’t an unlimited highway. With 3G and 4G networks, the bandwidth is scattered across the spectrum that is getting tighter. At the beginning, 3G cells were much larger and covered a broader area. Then 4G cells became more condensed making the coverage area for each one smaller.
With 5G, the addition of even more cells will cause the spectrum to be more overcrowded than it already is. Even though 5G will dramatically increase the speed at which the internet will function. That will be a challenge for those who are a lot smarter than I am.
If you are ready to just turn on your older phone one morning and see a 5G symbol in the corner, then I hate to be the bearer of bad news. In order to connect to and get the benefits of a 5G network, consumers have to have 5G-enabled devices. That means, that the $1,200 phone in your hand is worthless unless it is already 5G ready. For most of the world, that means more hardware money will be spent. If I had to guess, the new phones that will be compliant with 5G won’t be cheaper.
If you live in a major metropolitan area or one that has a high level of technology infrastructure, you are most likely going to be ready to rock ‘n roll immediately. If you live in another area that is more isolated or behind the curve, you are going to be waiting awhile.
Significant adoption of 5G is going to take years. The industry trade group GSMA estimates that by 2025, around half of mobile connections will be 5G (the rest will be older tech, like 4G and 3G). Technology changes constantly though so those figures are never set in stone.
So that’s it! The great 5G is coming. Are you “All in?” I certainly am because the benefits are superior than the drawbacks in my opinion.