5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks promising speedier Internet connection, rapid performance, reduced latency, and the capability to support an immense IoT ecosystem.
- 5G will possess 100x more capacity than 4G due to the use of shorter waves and higher frequencies. A frequency is the number of waves which pass through a fixed place in a given amount of time. Shorter waves have higher frequencies and produce higher amounts of energy.
- 4G latency, the delay between the sending and receiving of information, is roughly 45 milliseconds. 5G latency is one millisecond – 400 times faster than the blink of an eye.
- 5G could support 1 million devices per 1 Km2 and 1000x bandwidth per unit area.
- 5G could lower power consumption by an estimated range of 10%-90%.
Sounds great, right? On many levels, yes — 5G will enable vast improvements in current methods of communication. Yet, when we dig a little deeper, challenges arise.
Firstly, 5G will not come cheap — for telecom companies, this means heavy spending on building brand new infrastructure to accommodate 5G’s usage of shorter waves and higher frequencies. This includes constructing networks of transmitters located every few hundred meters across cities. Additionally, businesses and consumers will need to spend on device upgrades and replacements because current devices cannot simply connect to the new technology.
Furthermore, 5G’s advanced IoT system poses several security concerns. While 5G will provide stronger data encryption and improved verification networks, mass communication between IoT devices will make it a “prime target” for hackers. Additionally, because of 5G’s speed, criminals could retrieve information faster than before. Thus, companies must implement heightened security measures to protect themselves against potential threats.
Still, 5G does promise exciting breakthroughs, including the enabling of smart cities, autonomous vehicles, fully automated and remote control of manufacturing, remote transportation logistics, remote surgeries, and connecting billions of gadgets on the IoT. But, are these cases solid foundations for the hype? Are there alternative ways to support these technologies? On the one hand, 4G technologies continue to evolve and have even reached 4.9G, the latest upgrade to 4G LTE (Long-Term Revolution) revved up with larger antenna arrays. Plus, 4.9G is ultimately an interim step to support the full deployment of 5G. While 4.9G can support 3D video, virtual and augmented reality, and the Industrial IoT, 5G will be necessary for the aforementioned use cases. Yet, only a few of these cases would require a nationwide 5G network. For example, 5G is critical for autonomous vehicles to process information in real-time with reliable connectivity to ensure top passenger safety. Thus, the question is, whether at present, we as individuals and as a society have a need for these technologies. Today, 4G is highly capable of powering the globe. Thus, in order for 5G to be implemented worldwide, it must be applicable for everyone. Now, 5G only seems useful for a small niche of people and it will take time before the new technologies will be beneficial to the masses.
And finally, when will 5G actually become a reality? Analysts have wildly differing predictions. Estimates range from 5G coming in around 2020 to 2025, while others think that by 2025, despite deployment, 5G will still stand behind 3G and 4G based on global mobile connections — then other reports think there might be some 1 billion 5G users by 2023.
Still, one thing is certain for now — 5G will not fully replace 4G. In fact, 5G must build upon current 4G networks as a critical component in its operation. Thus, while 4G won’t be going away anytime soon, 5G is slowly, but surely on its way.