Would you like the practical answer, or the marketable answer?
We had 3G, we have 4G, now we are going to have 5G. Okay, great. So what does yet another progression in single-digit numbers mean for wireless connectivity? A lot! But, then again, not much.
In 2018, nearly everyone requires the internet. We require it to learn, we require it handle our money, we require it to work, and we require it to entertain… sometimes we require it to even read books. Yes, that’s right. To read books. Imagine explaining that to somebody 30 years ago. Due to our inherent dependability on connection to the internet, we also require a technology that can have enough bandwidth to fit all that data. This is the reason that 5G must exist.
Just like its predecessors, 5G is a wireless connection that is designed specifically for devices that need a mobile connection. However, also like its predecessors, its existence is largely due to the proliferation of devices that necessitate it. We no longer only demand a smart-phone and a laptop, now we demand connected cars, wearables, glasses, toothbrushes (yup), and apparently dog-collars to satiate our urge to link-up. Some statistics show upwards of 21 billion devices to be internet driven by 2020. Although right now, it’s estimated that a mere 6.4 billion are currently connected, which makes it almost 1 device per person globally.
What does it mean to be 5G?
G, quite simply, stands for generation. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, 1G and 2G existed when the first mobile phones came out. There were created to make cellular phone calls, then to allow text messaging. Eventually, technology evolved to 3G which allowed phone calls, text messages, and accessing the internet. 3G was met with rather slow internet speeds depending on what was being accessed. The advent of 4G enhanced much of 3G capability and made downloading/uploading large files possible.
4G LTE, which stands for ‘long term evolution’ is where we currently are, and seems to work pretty well. It is the best variant of 4G making it faster, more dependable, and largely standardized in the wireless market.
5G is quite easy to explain. It’s the exact same as 4G LTE, just faster and will be able to accept the ever-growing number of devices. So just in case you need to download and watch 4K movies while driving to work, you can! But is it that much faster than 4G? Let’s put it in mathematical perspective. 4G LTE down speeds will top out at 1Gb per second, making an HD movie take a little under an hour to download. Using 5G technology, the same download will take around a minute, so there is certainly a noticeable difference when downloading movies. With everything else, not as much.
All in all, the technology at this point is really just keeping up with the amount of connections there are as well as the increase in data file sizes.
Cellular technology and how data is transmitted.
Cell phones are really just two-way radios. When speaking to somebody, your conversation is converted into electrical signals which are then sent to a nearby cell tower. That cellular tower transmits the radio wave to other cell towers ending up at the other cell phone. These cell towers also transmit other data like photos and videos. The frequency of transmission is the differentiating factor between wireless technologies. Higher frequencies yield much faster transmission, but at a cost, since they don’t travel as far as lower frequencies do.
Your router at home would be a good example. Generally, your router will emit both a 2.4GHz band and a 5GHz band. When a certain device can see the 5GHz frequency, usually you will achieve a slightly better speed, but also notice that the signal strength isn’t as good as the lower frequency. The same goes for cell connectivity, except in this situation, we are going from 20MHz (4G) to 6GHz (5G). Again, because of poor traveling length, signal-boosting antennas will likely need to be used when we near 5G availability, which has been estimated to be widely used by 2020. Just in time for the exponential increase of devices using an internet connection!