5G: “Faster than fast”

Have you ever wondered what that LTE acronym means when it shows up in the top right corner of your cell phone? What’s the big deal about the “G”s in the cellular networks?

It’s all about “Speed. Faster than fast, quicker than quick…” as Lightning McQueen says in the movie Cars!

1G, 2G, 3G represent the first three generations of mobile networks where the G stands for ‘Generation’ and the numbers represent the generation number. Every decade since the early 1980s, we have seen a new generation of mobile networks.

The first generation, 1G, used an analog transmission only allowing for voice calls, but as the industry shifted to 2G, the change to digital communications allowed for so much more including text messaging. Finally, in the early 2000s, 3G was released which enabled mobile internet access.

4G was initially rolled out in 2012 as the successor to 3G. Soon after, a new technology called LTE(Long Term Evolution) came around in 2016 which provided a boost to the 4G specification. Together, these two technologies were able to provide speeds up to 1000x faster than that of 3G. The jump in cellular speed allowed corporate employees to join live meetings or users to stream movies from Netflix while on the go on their devices.

Photo by Rayson Tan on Unsplash

So what is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation standard for cellular networks which carriers started launching worldwide in 2019.

5G provides a massive increase in internet speeds and latency over 4G. That means quicker downloads, faster connection times, and a significant impact on how we live, work, and play. The connectivity benefits of 5G are expected to make businesses more efficient and give consumers access to more information faster than ever before.

5G’s additional bandwidth will allow for many more devices to be connected at once, enabling many new opportunities for millions of new devices including IoT devices, connected infrastructure, and smart data solutions. This has the potential to transform business management and community interaction as a whole.

There are essentially two main kinds of 5G connections. The mmWave (high-band) and the sub-6ghz (mid-band).

Basically, mmWave technology provides super-fast speeds at the expense of range, while the mid-band will provide more comprehensive coverage while still maintaining fairly high speeds. Carriers utilize a combination of 4G and both 5G standards to provide fast speeds and maintain a consistent connection throughout developed areas.

For the more technical individuals out there, 5G utilizes a higher frequency than 4G allowing for more data to be transferred over the same period. 4G commonly uses frequencies from 600mhz to 2.5ghz. As the name suggests, the sub-6ghz band uses frequencies of about 6ghz. 5G mmWave uses frequencies all the way up to 39ghz to achieve its insane speeds. As mentioned previously, this massive increase in wavelength does come at the cost of range and an increase in signal degradation when passing through obstacles.

Photo by Frederik Lipfert on Unsplash

How can I use 5G?

To take advantage of the blazing-fast 5G network, you must first have a cellular plan that includes a 5G connection. Most large carriers should have it included by default like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile in the US.

Next, you must be living in one of the thousands of cities that have a 5G network. You can check if your country or city has 5G coverage online.

Lastly, you need a 5G compatible device. For a phone to support 5G they need a special processor that has been developed with 5G support in mind. Luckily, most new mid-/high- end smartphones include this chip, for example, the iPhone 12 or newer and the Samsung Galaxy S10 or newer.

Myths about 5G

Being such a new technology, 5G was falsely blamed to be the cause of the COVID-19 virus by many conspiracy theorists across the world. They attacked cell towers and halted new infrastructure developments for several months. All such claims were manufactured by these people to spread fear and have no basis in science.

Whats next?

With 5G just starting to take a foothold and many areas of the world still relying on 3G and 4G networks, it seems a little crazy to already start thinking about 6G. Yet, as 5G is becoming the standard, R&D teams have already turned their attention to work on the next generations of cellular technologies. Expected to release within the next decade, 6G would once again bring a quantum leap with what is possible in the cellular connectivity realm.

High School Student, I write about my opinions, understandings, and perspectives on tech