My phone is usually using 4G-LTE, which is generally fast and causes few problems. Once in a while, I’ll be somewhere without great service and notice my phone lagging or taking forever to pull up a video. When I look to the upper corner of my screen, I’m likely to see my phone has switched to 3G. Oh the horror!
Most of us are used to the speed and convenience of 4G-LTE, but something even better is on the horizon: 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology determined by standards set by the International Telecommunications Union-Radio.
With each generation of wireless technology, download and upload speeds get faster, we get less lag-time and fewer hiccups. When 5G hits, we can expect full-length HD movie downloads to take seconds instead of minutes, and high-speed video games with zero delays. Right now, if you’re running 4G-LTE (Long Term Evolution), Android Authority reports you may have download speeds of 100 megabits per second. But hold on to your hats because 5G speeds are expected to be at least at one gigabit per second — or 10 times as fast as LTE speeds. So if you’re pretty happy with LTE, you will think you’ve died and gone to heaven when 5G rolls out.
Remember that "Internet of Things" you keep hearing about, where everything is connected from your fridge to your autonomous car to your light bulbs? Well, this technology has the capability to provide the infrastructure needed to make that a reality. Research company Gartner reports that by 2020, there will be 26 billion units out in the world with the embedded technology to communicate with their environments. All that connectivity demands massive infrastructure to carry the data needed and that’s where 5G comes in. The battle for who will launch it first is fierce.
AT&T has successfully used 5G in a commercial grade device.
“We remain on track to be the first to introduce mobile 5G services in the U.S. on the NETGEAR Nighthawk® 5G Mobile Hotspot,” the company said in a recent statement. AT&T will bring mobile 5G to 12 cities this year and plans to expand next year. This initial offering has to be in hotspot form because no phones are actually capable of carrying 5G yet. It will take special antennas that likely won’t be available in any phones until the first half of next year.
Verizon has launched 5G, kind of. The catch is that it's a replacement for your broadband, and homes will need an installer to put in a hockey puck-sized wireless hotspot to pick it up. This option is very limited, only available in certain neighborhoods in four cities. The company says it plans to launch mobile 5G next year. Verizon claims its 5G trials have achieved download speeds 30-50 times faster than 4G.
T-Mobile and Sprint are in the process of merging, and both have ambitious plans for 5G. Last month, T-Mobile put out a statement saying it plans to launch 5G next year with nationwide coverage coming in 2020. Sprint has announced it will release the first 5G phone in the U.S. in the first half of next year. The company is also claiming it will have “the country’s first mobile 5G network” when it launches in nine cities next year.
Just this week, President Trump signed an order making sure the Commerce Department has a plan for a smooth transition as 5G becomes reality. CNBC reports “the goal is to ensure there is enough spectrum to handle the growing amount of internet and wireless traffic and that future faster 5G networks have adequate spectrum.”
While the question of who will be first is still up in the air, the fact is that 5G is coming. Let’s hope it’s as glorious as it sounds.