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The 5G network has been hailed as the next game-changing revolution in the information age. 5G brings novel technology to the well-established field of mobile communications and promises to deliver incredibly high speeds and connectivity. However, many people still don’t realize that 5G is not a product in and of itself. There’s also a lot of open skepticism among the general public regarding the effect of 5G on living organisms. 5G is definitely not going away, so it can’t hurt to learn more about its purpose, benefits, and possibilities.

What is 5G, actually?

5G is infrastructure, plain and simple. It’s the digital railroad of the future whose capabilities will serve new devices, enable complex AI features, and expand interconnectivity. 5G is short for “fifth generation”, and it represents the next step in the evolution of cellular networking technology. The currently active global standard for mobile communications and data transfer is 4G, which has been around since 2008. 4G theoretically offers download speeds of up 100 Mbit/s and virtually all modern cellphone services and apps run on it. In comparison, 5G networks are expected to transfer data at an astonishing speed of close to 10 Gbit/s. This broadband power easily overshadows most of today’s wired internet capacities, providing a whole new potential specter of services. For instance, it would allow you to download a 4K resolution movie in a matter of seconds. As awesome as this all might sound, it becomes even more impressive once you go back to the very beginning.

History and trends in wireless networking technology

1G network dates way back to 1979 and was used only to transmit analog voice signals between clunky devices. With technological advancements in the field of capacitors and microchips came the 2G standard in 1991. 3G followed at the turn of the millennium, offering data transfer and first real consumer access to mobile internet. Since 4G came to life in 2008, it has been boosted to what is known as 4.5G or even 4.9G. This upgraded 4G infrastructure offers significant data transfer speeds. Therefore, some professionals in this domain believe that the average consumer doesn’t even require 5G network speeds for everyday use. Regardless of this, 5G is being aggressively rolled out, and the promise of higher bandwidth and minimum latency sounds ever-so-attractive.

The value proposition of 5G networks

Let there be no misconception: the consumer will never turn down additional bandwidth. The nature of the information age is based on the informal concept that tech is always becoming faster. Faster microprocessors, faster response times, faster downloads, faster streaming. Additionally, the development of this infrastructure and devices designed for it creates a positive feedback loop. New games, apps, and functions of smart devices and phones push infrastructure creators to think ahead. The best example would be the video game industry back in the 1990s and its heavy focus on 3D. Since then, games have become a staple of mobile devices and most of them require users to be constantly connected. The general trend in this domain is acceleration and 5G aims to meet the expectations in this regard. Moreover, the sheer volume of smart devices and interconnected hardware is booming, driving IoT industry growth year after year. As the number of devices per user increases, users continue to crave more simplification and control over their gadgets. 5G offers to give them just that: the ability to connect all of their smart devices to a singular control point – their phone.

Availability of 5G networks in the US

5G is already available throughout the US, but this coverage is far from ideal at this point. The deployment of 5G infrastructure began in early 2019, but the process will take some time. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are leading the charge and have 5G up and running in hundreds of locations. However, if you consider the size of the US market in terms of geography and population, this is just scratching the surface. What shows promise is that some locations have recorded bandwidth speeds of up to 1.4 Gbit/s, which is nothing short of impressive. On the other hand, this is far from realistic in terms of expected network loads once the standard becomes common. Bandwidth speeds of this magnitude still have to be verified in a busy real-world environment full of active users.

One additional point for consideration is the segmentation of the electromagnetic spectrum in which 5G operates. 5G is available in three different parts of this spectrum, and this choice impacts the underlying infrastructure. Currently, the “sweet spot” is the mid-band part, which combines solid geographical reach and good (but not maximum) speeds. It operates in the 1-6 GHz span and yields up to 1 Gbit/s of bandwidth.

Global players in the 5G field

Besides the US, 5G networks are currently being deployed in close to 40 countries across the globe. A burning topic these days is the role China’s Huawei has in this race. The Chinese giant is leading the pack and seems eager to supply the necessary infrastructure worldwide. Other manufacturers include Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung strive to compete with Huawei and pave the way forward. When it comes to individual countries, South Korea has the highest 5G adoption rate at 10%. In terms of speed, Saudi Arabia ranks first with 144.5 Mbit/s. It is followed by Canada at 90.4 and South Korea in third place. The US is lagging slightly behind both in terms of coverage and speeds, but new tests show plenty of potential. The previously mentioned choice of spectrum segmentation might prove to be crucial in determining the future market leader.

The future ahead

The 5G standard, once fully functional, is expected to permeate all existing channels of digital communication and create many more. Its main benefit will likely be the ability to serve a host of devices in real-time. This will be pivotal in propelling the innovations of tomorrow; such as self-driving cars, remote surgeries, and medical diagnostics. It will also be one of the lifelines in smart factories and augmented reality entertainment. However, we won’t really know its full potential until it actually arrives in full and people start using it en masse. In the meantime, we’ll make sure to keep you up-to-date with 5G’s expected long-term impact, so stay tuned.