5G: A Primer for the Future of Mobile Communications

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

5G: A Primer for the Future of Mobile Communications

5G, or "fifth generation," is an upcoming wireless phone technology that represents the next step from the current iteration of mobile communication networks. While the nitty-gritty of the new cellular standard hasn't been finalized yet, the benefits and goals of 5G have already been outlined by its governing body, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP.

The future is 5G 

Currently, most mobile users are subscribed to 3G or 4G LTE networks, but in some regions of the world, 2G networks are still in play.

A brief backgrounder

In the 1980s, the first-generation mobile technology, 1G, introduced cellphone-based, analog communication. 1G was eventually replaced by 2G, which ushered in digital communication technology, making calls more reliable and secure, and also brought about text messaging. The 3G era is landmarked by the addition of data services, such as fast mobile Internet. 4G LTE, "Long-Term Evolution", as well as its "Advanced" LTE-A iteration, both feature faster data transfer rates as well as increased range and network capacity.

The benefits of 5G

As the next major step from 4G LTE and 4G LTE-A, 5G is expected to be faster and more reliable. Early projections of 5G's data transfer throughput place it at around 10 times faster than current 4G LTE speeds. 4G LTE caps at around 100 Mbps, LTE-A at 1000 Mbps, while 5G speeds are expected to reach at least the 10 Gbps mark. 

One of the expected advantages of 5G is the further reduction of latency between the mobile carrier and its users. Currently, there's a slight delay between the two during data transfer. 5G technology aims to reduce that to a trivial amount so that data transfer is near instantaneous - or at least faster than 4G. In practice, that means lower delay when watching live streams and more responsive online mobile gaming.

Like its predecessor, 5G is aimed to provide better connectivity and an even larger network capacity. The latter is very timely, given the rapidly increasing use of smart gadgets and technology in daily life. 5G is expected to greatly impact this vast network of interconnected devices, more commonly known as the "Internet of Things".

A drawback of 5G tech

Due to the way 5G technology is designed, with its priorities in speed and capacity, the upcoming standard may not provide as much coverage as 4G or even 3G. 5G coverage may even be deployed much like WiFi hotspots, with urban areas having a wider coverage range due to available infrastructure.

The availability and cost of 5G

The most recent public test of 5G technology was at the recently concluded Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, where it was used for live streaming various events.

Major U.S. mobile networks such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are currently doing trials with 5G technology and are expected to roll out the service in 2019. According to preliminary reports, 5G network service is likely to be more expensive than 4G LTE service.

Mobile users will have to wait for new smartphones that are capable of tapping into 5G networks, as none of the current handsets are able to. Major smartphone manufacturers are expected to release their line-up of 5G-capable phones next year.

By  33rd Square