What a 5G Network Can Do For You

International Cell Connectivity
International Cell Connectivity. John Lamb / Getty Images

Mobile and cellular networks have undergone a series of technology shifts in their history. The industry calls their latest wave of development 5G – the fifth generation of standardized mobile telecommunications. 5G networks build upon the technology currently being used in the world’s 3G and 4G networks but also promise some significant improvements.

More – 3G vs. 4G vs. 5G Mobile Networking Explained

What’s Different about 5G Compared to 4G?

Older cell networks were notorious for their slow connection speeds, but 4G focused on and largely fixed that. 5G technology looks to improve on 4G in several ways:

  • Even higher bandwidth connections. 4G still can’t compete with the highest-speed home Internet services. 5G should provide multi-gigabit links to consumers, making streaming video, app downloads and sharing data on social networks a breeze.
  • Better support for timing-sensitive connections. Mobile and embedded devices such as Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets don’t need high-bandwidth connections but rather ones that are optimized for low network latency and also low power (think battery life) to maintain.
  • Wider reach.  4G cell networks still do not cover many geographic areas due in part to the cost of infrastructure.

Who is Developing 5G Networks?

Telecommunications companies in Japan, South Korea, Europe and the U.S., hardware makers, technology researchers, and others all plan to be involved in building 5G networks.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations agency with members across many of these organizations worldwide, ultimately organizes and ratifies the 5G technology specification.

When Will 5G Be Available?

The ITU named its development effort on 5G “IMT-2020”, indicating the year 2020 as the target for standard ratification.

 The first verifiably standard-compliant 5G commercial network may roll out in Tokyo, Japan as part of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Other forms of 5G based on draft versions of the standard are likely to appear earlier.  South Korea, for example, may build such a network for their 2018 Winter Olympics, and another may be built for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Elements of 5G technology will also be integrated into existing 4G networks even earlier and dubbed 4.5G, similar to how so-called 3.5G and 3.75G networks evolved previously.

Telecommunications companies have already started conducting lab tests and some field experiments with 5G related technologies. Field trials generate significant attention but should not be taken too seriously as indications of what future 5G commercial services will offer.

Expect the worldwide rollout of 5G to occur over a period of many years. Just as some parts of the world continued to rely on 3G networks long after 4G was deployed in other areas, the same can happen again in transitioning from 4G to 5G. Only relatively few consumers will be able to enjoy 5G by 2020.

Some Issues with 5G Networks

Big technology rollouts take a long time and can be difficult for any number of reasons.

5G in particular faces multiple key challenges:

  • Use of wireless spectrum.  5G requires expanding into new parts of the radio spectrum in order to achieve its performance goals. Government agencies carefully regulate radio usage on different frequencies to avoid business conflicts and safety issues, but regulations vary by country and can be time-consuming to negotiate.
  • Competing corporate interests. Mobile networks require a huge financial investment from the industry. Companies involved look to gain an edge over their competition to improve their business position and minimize their risk. In the worst case, standards disputes arise that delay the development process and compromise the final product.
  • Uncertain future usage. It’s difficult to predict how consumers will be using mobile networks in 2020 and beyond. The industry is banking on emerging areas like IoT, driverless cars, and ultra high-definition video, but these may not materialize to the extent anticipated, while other disruptive needs might emerge instead.