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Hype, hype, hurrah: Get ready for 5G

Get ready for an onslaught of news coverage about 5G – the up and coming new generation of mobile networks. 5G is just that, the fifth generation, and it comes on the heels of the 3G and 4G networks which are probably feeding your devices data at this very moment. The first networks have been lit in Finland, Qatar, and a few selected US cities. to name a couple locations.

The three major benefits to 5G include greater speed for moving data, less latency slowing down response times, and lots more room for a whole lot more devices to get connected. 5G plans to do this by using millimeter wave frequencies, building a  dense network of “small cells” for broadcast and reception, and having software that enables a user-defined network. Promoters say this is going to be the best thing since sliced bread and they are expecting massive changes for consumers, the IoT, industry, and transportation.

It’s a quantum jump

To get an idea of the comparative speed between various network generations, think about the time needed to download a two-hour film. This would take about 20 hours with 3G, 6 minutes with 4G, and a sizzling 3.5 seconds with 5G. Likewise, while 4G networks have an average latency of .045 milliseconds, this number is slashed to .001 milliseconds with 5G. Of course, that happens in practice is likely to be less fast. And, 5G will be dovetailing with the current 4G networks for the next couple years at least.

High frequency, high density

5G networks can move data amazingly fast because they are using higher frequency radio waves between the 28 and 39 GHz level – and they have a lot of space to work with. On the down side, these radio waves don’t travel to well and are more easily blocked – mandating that telecoms build a much denser network of small cells. This also means that urban users – whether they are individuals, manufacturing sites, or a newly autonomous cars – will be getting 5G access way before rural communities.

The devil is in the software

5G is really not about the wires, it is about the software. It enables users to form their own preferred network connections using techniques called network slicing and beamforming. Instead of broadcasting signals indiscriminately around the 5G user, it allows the network direct the signal more closely to the end audience. This ability to tweak coverage via programmable software might be a contributing element in the current conflict between the US government and the Chinese Huawei.

Talking about my (5) Generation

Most people’s eyes will glaze over in seconds at a discussion over the technical differences between various networks. However, we do remember the technological possibilities which each new generation enables – and the changes are striking.

Here is a brief chart of the highlights:

1GEarly 1980sVoice-only
2G1991SMS test messages,  MMS
3G1998Internet access, Global Positioning System (GPS), location-based services,  Video on demand
4G2008Gaming services, HD mobile TV, video conferencing, IP telephony

So forget about discussing the technical distinctions of networks. Just think about how revolutionary it was to have an affordable mobile phone that could go in your pocket. Think about using Uber to get a ride to the airport. Think about binge watching your favorite show. And with 5G around the corner, imagine what could happen next with your own personal life, your smart house, your mobility, and your job. We just don’t know what’s going to happen – but we do know it’s going to be fast.

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As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.