From smart homes to IoT and autonomous cars, this is how 5G will impact our world.
Super-fast phones. Self-driving cars. Smarter homes. Streaming movies, music, and games with zero lag. These are just a some of the technologies we can expect to see in our lives, beginning in 2019, and tying them all is a next-generation cellular network known as 5G. As with 4G and 3G before it, 5G will deliver faster speeds, but that’s just one part of the story. 5G will allow our devices and services — the Internet of Things, or IOT — to interconnect seamlessly. Things that seem complex to operate, like autonomous cars or drones, will become achievable. Here’s everything you need to know about your next wireless network.
It’s been nearly a decade in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. Carriers started rolling out fixed 5G to select cities a few years ago, and mobile 5G has already made appearances in cities around the country, with a much more comprehensive rollout expected this year.
Yet it may seem as though there are more questions about 5G than there are answers. Some wonder where 5G is available, and if they’ll ever see it in their city; others are more interested in which 5G smartphone they should buy (here’s a few ideas). And of course, there is the debate about which carrier will have the best 5G service.
Before we explain how 5G works, it’s probably a good idea to explain what 5G is.
There are a lot of specifics, which we talk about later in this post, but here’s a quick primer. 5G is the next generation of mobile broadband that will eventually replace, or at least augment, your 4G LTE connection. With 5G, you’ll see exponentially faster download and upload speeds. Latency, or the time it takes devices to communicate with wireless networks, will also drastically decrease.
How does 5G work?
Now that we know what 5G is, it’s a good idea to understand how it works, since it’s different from traditional 4G LTE. First, let’s talk spectrum.
Unlike LTE, 5G operates on three different spectrum bands. While this may not seem important, it will have a dramatic effect on your everyday use.
Low-band spectrum can also be described as a sub-1GHz spectrum. It’s the primary band used by carriers in the U.S. for LTE, and bandwidth is nearly depleted. While low-band spectrum offers great coverage area and wall penetration, there is a big drawback: Peak data speeds will top out around 100Mbps.
T-Mobile is the key player when it comes to low-band spectrum. The carrier picked up a massive amount of 600MHz spectrum at a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction in 2017 and is using it to quickly build out its nationwide 5G network.
Mid-band spectrum provides faster speeds and lower latency than low-band. It does, however, fail to penetrate buildings as effectively as low-band spectrum. Expect peak speeds up to 1Gbps on mid-band spectrum.
Sprint has the majority of unused mid-band spectrum in the U.S. The carrier is using Massive MIMO to improve penetration and coverage area on the mid-band. Massive MIMO groups multiple antennas onto a single box, and at a single cell tower, to create multiple simultaneous beams to different users. Sprint will also use Beamforming to bolster 5G service on the mid-band. This sends a single focused signal to every user in the cell, and systems using it to monitor each user to make sure they have a consistent signal.