Almost a decade after the introduction of 4G LTE technology, wireless networks are once again on the cusp of a new standard of speed. The buzz and clamor for 5G wireless internet has been increasingly building in recent months, ramping up as the proposed roll-out dates draw near. Industry press proclaims that 5G will be a world-changing development affecting nearly every aspect of our lives to some degree or another. Internet service providers are scrambling to have networks ready months or years before initial estimates in response to the calls. Tariffs in the ever-escalating trade dispute with China are being shaped by the US government to be minimally impactful on the rollout of 5G chipsets. What is this technology causing this stir? How different will it really be? And what will really change?
The best one-word description of 5G internet is “fast.” 5G operates on the high-frequency end of the wireless spectrum, known as millimeter-wave spectrum, capable of transferring huge amounts of data at incredibly fast rates. Reachable speeds for 5G networks will be up to 10Gbps, roughly 10x faster than 4G and most home networks provided through a hardline. 5G isn’t only fast, it’s more responsive than current connections. The lower latency brings the gap from a user interface to program response down to nearly undetectable levels. 5G networks will also have increased bandwidth over current wireless and home networks, meaning more devices can be engaged in more complex activities at the same time.
Taken together, these facets of 5G technology constitute a game-changing development for consumers’ connected lives. 5G could easily replace hard-line home internet service using a wireless modem and router. The home network will have enough bandwidth to power televisions, computers, smartphones and connected appliances concurrently. No more slow down Netflix because a family member is playing an online video game. Movies will download in seconds. Real-time video from home security camera will be defined, smooth and fluid. 5G technology could also spell the end of the video game console after 40-plus years. The high speeds and low latency will allow users to play games directly from the cloud with no lag. The low latency isn’t just a benefit for the gamers of the world, immediate responses will help push other technologies forward as well. Surgeons will operate on patients remotely using nimble robots aided by the sensitive controls enabled by the networks. Self-driving cars will have improved reaction times and will be better able to identify potential hazards on the road.
Despite the plethora of benefits that will accompany the rollout of the technology, 5G will not arrive without some hiccups. The high-frequency end of the wireless spectrum, while being able to deliver large datasets at high speeds, has a very short range. Existing transmission towers are not able to provide the blanket coverage such a network requires, thousands of additional antennas will need to be added to the existing infrastructure. Coupled with increased complexity of the network which will require more highly skilled technicians to maintain, this increased cost could be passed on to the consumer. Additionally, the shorter wavelengths experience more difficulty when not within line of sight from the antennas. The signals also experience greater interference from walls, windows and other obstructions. These issues have to be resolved before a full rollout if consumers are going to receive the full benefit of the new technology.
5G wireless technology has the potential to be an incredible driver of technological change over the coming years and to disrupt numerous markets, from consumer appliances to medicine. The likelihood for impact in areas of daily life that no one has yet to consider is high. The technology is coming, and in keeping true with its nature, its coming faster than people expected.
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