Imagine internet speeds that are so fast you can watch an ice skater spinning midair while seeing every angle at once and in real time? Or a baseball player sliding into home plate for a close call that video instantly tells you wasn’t close at all? Or an ailing patient in a remote place who has surgery performed by a medical specialist from another location far away? It sounds fantastical, yet 5G promises this kind of magic.
What is All the Hype About 5G?
A new generation (G for short) of networking is revealed about every ten years. Step back to the early 1980s when voice mail without a separate answering machine seemed hard to believe. That was 1G. In the 1990s, 2G networks carried the first digital cellular signals, and people began using mobile phones with increasing regularity. With 2.5G networks, data entered the picture. This was followed by 3G with newer cellular networks that carried both voice and data much faster.
By 2010 we were well on our way to the 4G technology that allows today’s broadband internet experiences. The speed of and access to 4G is still growing, while 5G networks are beginning to bring even more remarkable capabilities. If you watched or attended any of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, you have already seen some of 5G’s offerings.
5G Goes to the Olympics
South Korea succeeded in beating the major telecom giants of the world by launching the first large-scale pilot of 5G service at the Pyeongchang Olympics. A partnership between Intel and Korea Telecom produced a dazzling display of 5G capabilities that ranged from computer-coordinated, drone-based light shows to live simultaneous game broadcasts in virtual reality with no time delays. 5G-enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) was also on display. Because cellular devices were not yet equipped for 5G, Olympics visitors used public devices stationed around the venue to experience 5G.
South Korea has the advantage, because it is already home to some of the most advanced mobile networks in the world, and geographically, it is a small country. In 2017 South Korean users had access to 4G networks more than 96 percent of the time as compared to the U.S. at 87 percent. South Korea’s access is the highest in the world, and the country is a leader in advancing 4G internet speeds. The U.S. falls behind South Korea in 5G development because of its geographic breadth.
Bringing 5G to the far-flung American population requires a major investment, but pilot programs have begun in selected areas. AT&T ran 5G trials in four cities in Michigan, Indiana and Texas and had launched mobile 5G to 12 cities by December 2018. Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Charter (Spectrum) also have plans to launch 5G in specific areas. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you will probably get 5G sooner than customers in less populated areas.
What Does 5G Offer?
While greatly increased speed is a sure advantage, the most exciting thing about 5G is its low latency or lag time. This is the thing that would allow a surgeon to operate robotically from another location or allow you to drive your car from afar without being in the driver’s seat. 5G will be 10 times faster than the fastest home broadband system and 100 times faster than a cellular connection.
It will out-perform 4G by running on a high-spectrum, high-capacity band that will allow consistent, reliable and instantaneous connections to the huge number of interactive devices that will make up the Internet of Things (IoT). No matter how many people are connected, it will maintain its speed and know how to allocate bandwidth according to the amount of data coming through. This is important, because the IoT is forecast to grow to almost 31 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020.
The standards and selection of spectrum bands used to support 5G will be part of a global agreement. This ensures that everyone, worldwide, will have access to the same system and spectrum bands. Devices equipped with the hardware to take advantage of 5G are already on the market. Perhaps best of all, because 5G is driven by software rather than hardware, it will be easier to upgrade. This makes 5G scalable far into a future that may never require 6G.
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Allison Levin is vice president of energy services for Cost Control Associates, Inc. She has been with the company 22 years and achieved industry certification as a carbon reduction manager in 2015. She received her MST from SUNY Plattsburgh and her BA in mathematics from Boston University. Learn more.