By Mark Isaiah David
1G gave us the analog voice – the birth of the cellphone. 2G let us stay up all night, sending hundreds of text messages to friends and strangers. 3G brought us online even if it were in agonizing speeds. 4G is the speed we enjoy today, letting us inflict our LIVE videos upon the hapless world whenever we want. Now, whispers and half-truths about the next generation of mobile network technology abound. The advent of 5G is upon us.
1. What is 5G?
5G or 5th Generation mobile network is the next step in the technical evolution of the mobile network technology that we all use. If all goes as planned, 5G should give us elevated levels of performance and efficiency that will enable new user experiences and maybe even birth of new industries. 5G is the next stage. 5G is the future.
2. Great! Where do I sign up?
The first thing you need to know is that while 5G is the next BIG thing, it isn’t here yet. It is likely that the specifications of the technology will be finalized by 2018, but testing the equipment, deployment, and making sure that everything is up to standards might take a few more years after. So… maybe in 2020? 2021? It could take a while.
You might have heard some gadgets or some companies already boasting that what they’re offering is ‘5G’ but don’t be misled – it’s not finalized yet so even if what they’re offering promises some substantial improvement to current gen technology, it could all prove to be incompatible down the road. Hold your horses, keep informed, and trust that we’ll give you a heads-up when it’s finally time to switch.
3. How much better will it be?
As I said, nothing’s set in stone yet so estimates range from four times better than current 4G LTE speeds to ten times quicker. The anecdotal example is that 5G will let users download an HD movie in less than a second. Wrap your head around that while you curse your telco every time your download speeds drop way below what you’re paying for.
But aside from speed, 5G offers other advantages. More reliable networks with fewer dropped connections is one. Another is the growth of other technologies and industries. 5G will be critical in the mass deployment of self-driving cars, increase of virtual reality games and applications, and even in the proliferation of superbly clear content (8K or maybe even 16K) for movies and TV shows.
As exciting as these examples are, the truth is that we don’t really know yet what human ingenuity can produce when it has the ability to transfer incredibly large amounts of data in a blink of an eye. New services and technologies we can’t quite grasp yet may be borne out of 5G.
4. What sorcery is this? How can it do that?
The problem with today’s wireless networks is congestion. There is simply more people and more devices consuming more data than ever before, and all this traffic is stuck on the same radio-frequency bands that telcos have always used (typically under 6GHz). Imagine EDSA on a Friday payday when it rains. We know there’s a problem and we know the problem will only get worse because more people will buy more cars that will use the same road. It’s a nightmare.
It’s the same with our mobile network. Virtually everyone has a smartphone using data and we’re only adding more devices that need connectivity. We have smart watches and tablets and gaming platforms that need to go online. We’ll have smart cars and smart households and drones and cameras that will connect to a network. It’s getting cramped. As more devices come online, we’ll suffer from slower service and more dropped connections. The system simply won’t be able to handle it anymore.
5G posits that a simple solution would be to use a different band – Millimeter Waves (30 to 300GHz) – to free up the congestion. Utilizing this previously unused band (for mobile devices) will enable faster speeds not just for 5G-enabled devices but for everyone simply because we’re not cramming everyone in the same frequency.
Tapping Millimeter Waves has its own obstacles (it’s not great at travelling through buildings and it tends to get absorbed by trees and rain) but other emerging technologies (Small Cells, Massive Multiple Input-Multiple Output, Beamforming, Full Duplex, and other 5G technologies) that we won’t dive into here can help bring ultralow latency and record-breaking data speeds for 5G consumers.
5. Will it empty my wallet?
In theory, 5G will give telcos lower cost-per-bit (data costs) so it could result to either lower data plans for customers or some true unlidata plans. However, rolling out 5G will necessitate telcos to invest in upgrading cellular towers, putting up new ones, and laying more fiber optic cables. All of these would cost a lot of money so carriers would need to think of new services and revenue streams to justify the capital expenditure or just raise the already high cost of internet connectivity in our country. Considering your actual experience with local carriers, what do you think they’ll do?
There are still major obstacles that need to be hurdled before 5G becomes a reality. But we’re getting there. In 5 years or so, we may start enjoying data transfer speeds that may spur another revolution in creative ways we use the internet.
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