What's so Special About 5G?
With 5G drawing ever nearer, let's take a look at what features it will offer and how developers can be ready to make use of it.
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At this year's Mobile World Congress, there's a buzzword you hear more than anything else. Nope, it's not IoT and surprisingly, it's not blockchain. It's 5G. ACCIONA and MWCapital have announced plans to work together in the application of 5G networks in the industrial sector, prior to these networks becoming commercially available. Verizon announced plans to offer 5G networks this year. AT&T announced in January that it would begin rolling out its mobile 5G network later this year. During MWC, Sprint announced that it's bringing “5G-like capabilities” to six big American cities in early 2019. Intel announced ambitious plans for Tokyo 2020 blanketing the city in 5G. While 5G isn't expected until 2020, understandably big telecos and a significant number of companies are investing, researching and planning in preparation for the new mobile wireless standard.
Keep reading for a bit of an idiot's guide to 5G, so you'll be able to nod knowledgeably at parties and drop it into the conversation.
What Is 5G?
5G stands for the fifth generation and refers to the next and newest mobile wireless standard based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard of broadband technology.
What About the Other Gs?
G stands for a generation of mobile communication technology which is used in the mobile phones for communication. Different generations have different advances in technology. Basically, 1G was/is a voice-only phone, commensurate with those brick-like devices of the 80's. You'd be dealing with poor voice quality and that and poor battery life.
2G (aka Global system for mobile communication) denotes the transition from analog to digital in 1991, and the introduction of call and text encryption, plus data services like SMS, picture messages, and MMS. Then there's a bit of a nexus between 2G and 3G, with the interim 2.5G and 2.75G, making it possible to access the web pages via a mobile phone. 3G was developed in 1998 and upgraded audio and video meant better voice calling quality. 3G also brought faster data-transmission speeds making video calling and mobile internet more viable. 3.5G and 3.75G bought faster data processing and reduced latency.
Now, we're at 4G. 4G is up to 10 times faster than 3G services. Sprint was the first carrier to offer 4G speeds in the U.S. beginning in 2009. While all 4G service is called 4G or 4G LTE, the underlying technology is not the same with every carrier. Some use WiMax technology for their 4G network, while Verizon Wireless uses a technology called Long Term Evolution, or LTE.
So, What's So Good About 5G?
5G technology is expected to be faster, have fewer dead zones and end data caps on cellular contracts. The GMSA (The body behind MWC) specifies that to qualify for a 5G a connection should meet most of these eight criteria:
- One to 10Gbps connections to endpoints in the field
- One millisecond end-to-end round-trip delay
- 1000x bandwidth per unit area
- 10 to 100x number of connected devices
- (Perception of) 99.999 percent availability
- (Perception of) 100 percent coverage
- 90 percent reduction in network energy usage
- Up to ten-year battery life for low power, machine-type devices
When you consider the sheer number of devices connected to the web including mobiles, wearable tech, AR and VR devices needs to accommodate increased traffic at greater speed but also be able to provide broader coverage for IoT devices (and we're not even at autonomous car stage yet.) If you want to stream video seamlessly, play a VR game or receive real-time insights, these are the kind of capabilities that 5G promises to achieve.
The official 5G standard has not yet been established. As noted by Engadget, The International Telecommunication Union has published draft 5G specs that set performance expectations. Users should get 100Mbps download speeds and 50Mbps for uploads -- unlike with LTE, though, that's more of a consistent baseline than a theoretical maximum. Consumers should also see an extremely low lag of no more than 4ms (versus 20ms for LTE), and service should work on trains traveling as quickly as 500km/h (311MPH). In short, this should be as fast as a good home internet connection.
So far, no smartphones support 5G because there aren't any mainstream 5G networks to which they can connect. Once these networks begin rolling out, we'll begin to see smartphones with 5G support. When things hit the mainstream in kind of widespread capacity, across regions and countries, is anyone's guess. Let's hope it's worth the wait.
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