What is 5G?
Written by Don Schultz, trueCABLE Technical Sales Representative & Fluke Networks Certified Technician
No doubt, by now you have heard of 5G. It means 5th Generation Wireless. One way or the other, someone has an opinion on it. Quite often it is the center of conspiracy theories, often repeated as fact. This has led to unfortunate events involving vandalism and hysteria. What is it about 5G that has generated such controversy?
Well, quite honestly I cannot answer why there are conspiracy theories around this not-so-new technology. Weird and unusual theories based upon new technology are often spun by folks who don’t have all the facts about the technology and have a fear of the unknown. Quite a bit of misinformation about any number of subjects is out there on the Internet, and if it should get repeated enough times it seemingly becomes a “fact”.
4G LTE or 4th Generation Long-Term Evolution allows speeds around 2 Gb/s or 2,000 Mb/s. In reality, your speeds will typically be much slower. If you reach 15 Mb/s you are lucky. This does not match the typical home Internet speeds of 100+ Mb/s over common coaxial cable. Quite a few residential installations are now seeing 1 Gb/s availability and it is becoming normal. The nice thing about wired connections is you typically get all of that speed, with reliability, plus low latency. You really want low latency (the time it takes to get something going). How fast something goes, when it gets going, is called bandwidth. Gaming, HD entertainment, video calls, and things we have not even thought of yet depend on timely delivery of data and low latency is what gets you there.
Wireless, whether it is in your home or being used as part of a cellular network for 4G LTE (and now 5G), is the antithesis of reliability. Interference caused by our own planet, obstacles like buildings, and equipment that transmits a signal (weather radars, police radars, microwaves, aircraft radars, garage door openers, cordless phones, and a lot more) conspire to ruin your day.
5G will allow for bandwidth up to 20 Gb/s or 20,000 Mb/s. This is theoretically 20 times higher than a fiber Internet connection at 1 Gigabit or 1,000 Mb/s. Will this speed actually be seen on 5G? No, not really. It is nice that it can theoretically get there, but in practice, it simply will not. Here are some reasons why:
- 5G, at it’s best, is a very short-range technology because it operates at very high frequency. The higher the frequency means less range and less obstacle penetration.
- To get the most from it, 5G will need to be deployed in large numbers of transmitters attached to light poles, buildings, or just about anywhere that takes one. There are not too many light poles and buildings found in the middle of a forest or farm!
- Since it is not economical to deploy full-fledged 5G every few thousand feet in rural areas, more range is needed for less populated areas. Lower frequencies such as those used by 4G LTE are required and lower frequencies cannot carry as much data. The towers required for this are also massive and take up land and use quite a bit of electricity.
The other primary benefit to 5G besides raw bandwidth is the very desirable low latency.
The main takeaway: the biggest benefits to 5G will not be found outside of medium to large cities. If you live outside of a major population center, you will find that the 5G phone you buy tomorrow will only be a bit faster than what you have used up to now. Maybe you won’t notice a difference at all.
When 5G is released does this mean I can use it right away?
Not unless you have a phone that supports it. Like most new technologies, 5G will provide backward compatibility with older technology and your current 4G LTE phone will remain at 4G LTE. That is not to say you won’t see some benefits though. As more people start using 5G and move off of 4G LTE you will see less congestion on the frequencies that 4G LTE uses. Your perception will be faster speeds (assuming your carrier does not throttle you) because 4G LTE will operate more efficiently.
So now you know about 5G and what it does and does not do. I do have a favor to ask of those that keep stating the “end of the world is nigh” every time a new technology gets released. Please do these tasks in this order:
- Back away from the computer
- Get out of the jammies
- Emerge from your parent’s basement
- Get some sun and talk with other people...please!
With that, I say HAPPY NETWORKING!
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