5G is the next generation of wireless networks and promises a mobile experience that’s 10x to 100x faster than today’s 4G networks. When more smartphones and networks support 5G tech, it will have far-reaching consequences for consumers, from the cars we drive (or that drive us) to the food we eat to the safety of our roads to the ways we shop to the entertainment we share with family and friends.
Today, 5G may seem confusing even as it’s widely hyped. We’re here to help you sort fact from fiction, weed through the acronyms and jargon, and figure out when and how 5G can change the way you live. And we’ll keep you from getting caught up in hyperbole — and empty promises.
Is it about Speed?
N0! It is about latency; which is the the response time between when you click on a link or start streaming a video on your phone, which sends the request up to the network, and when the network responds, delivering you the website or playing your video. The lag time on current networks is around 20 milliseconds, but 5G reduces that to about 1 millisecond.
How does it work?
5G initially used super-high-frequency spectrum, which has shorter range but higher capacity, to deliver a massive pipe for online access. But given the range and interference issues, the carriers are also using lower-frequency spectrum; the type used in today’s networks to help ferry 5G across greater distances and through walls and other obstructions.
Are there other benefits?
Yes. The 5G network is designed to connect a far greater number of devices than a traditional cellular network does. 5G can power multiple devices around you, whether it’s a dog collar or a refrigerator. The 5G network was also specifically built to handle equipment such as farm equipment or ATMs. It’s also designed to work differently on connected products that don’t need a constant connection, like a sensor for fertilizer. Those kinds of low-power scanners are intended to work on the same battery for 10 years and still be able to periodically send data.
Can’t I just pick up 5G with my current smartphone?
No. 5G technology requires a specific set of antennas to tap into specific bands. For instance, Sprint‘s LG V50 is specifically tuned for its 5G network. Likewise, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is tuned for Verizon’s network and its millimeter wave spectrum. Many of the phones will use Qualcomm’s X50 modem, which is designed specifically to tap into specific 5G bands. Later phones will use a second-generation chip that picks up more spectrum bands.
Anything I should worry about? Any health risks?
High-frequency spectrum is the key to that massive pickup in capacity and speed, but there are drawbacks. The range isn’t great, especially when you have obstructions such as trees or buildings. As a result, carriers will have to deploy a lot more small cellular radios around any areas that get a 5G signal.
There have long been lingering concerns that cellular signals may cause cancer. Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of studies to conclusively prove or disprove a health risk. That opens the door to concerns about 5G. While some of those networks will run at super-high frequencies, researchers note that it still falls under the category of radiation that isn’t supposed to be harmful to our cells. Still, critics say there isn’t enough research into this issue and that the studies that have been conducted weren’t adequate. The World Health Organisation lists cellular signals as a potential carcinogen. But it also notes pickled vegetables and coffee as carcinogens too. It’s something people are worried about.