February 1, 2018
What is 5G: A Brief Explainer .
5G is shorthand for the next generation of wireless. But it’s more than just an evolutionary step forward, it’s a revolutionary leap.
Every wireless generation brings new innovations to consumers.
The first wireless networks let us communicate on the go. The leap to 2G enabled text messaging. 3G paved the way for mobile internet and music streaming. And 4G enabled true mobile broadband, unleashing the app economy and the dynamism of mobile video while inspiring other industries to harness the power of wireless.
What makes 5G so special? Speed, latency, and connections.
5G will be much faster than 4G. Up to 100x faster. Think upgrading from a two lane highway to two hundred lanes—much more data will be able to pass through the same busy areas without getting bottlenecked or delayed. These speeds will allow us to stream high-definition video in seconds and power innovations in fields like virtual reality.
5G will also reduce latency, or the delay that occurs when data is transmitted across distances, to nearly zero. This will allow autonomous vehicles to smoothly interact with each other and for advancements like remote surgery to be possible.
And 5G networks will be able to handle 100x the number of connected devices, enabling the Internet of Things and smart cities.
5G will use a mix of low-, mid- and high-band spectrum—the invisible radio waves that mobile data travels on. Each band will play an integral role in standing up 5G. Low-band spectrum will provide crucial foundational coverage. Mid-band spectrum will enhance that coverage and bolster networks’ capacities. And high-band spectrum will enhance those high capacities, by using what the industry calls mmWave technology—tiny radio wavelengths, measured in millimeters.
For 5G to benefit from the power of these three types of spectrum is groundbreaking—all previous wireless generations were built primarily on low-band spectrum. The wireless industry has spent years testing new technologies that work with mid- and high-bands in order to harness the shorter waves’ ability to transmit vast quantities of data.
Underpinning new 5G networks is entirely new wireless infrastructure, called small cells. Shortwave frequencies can’t travel as far as the frequencies we operate on now—where those can travel miles, higher band frequencies sometimes only travel meters. That’s why we’re always talking about the importance of small cells—they’re going to be the physical foundation needed to buttress our bigger and better data highways.
Wireless providers have been rolling out initial 5G networks to communities across the country in recent months. These networks will continue to grow and evolve to do amazing things. So when you see a driverless car parallel parking itself, or your refrigerator texts you to remind you to pick up milk, you can thank 5G.