5G represents the 5th generation of mobile networks and is the next big leap in wireless technology. 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. With 5G, users should experience unprecedented speeds, ultra low latency, and more reliability.
5G is expected to deliver faster speeds with lower latency that will unlock new experiences, connect new industries and empower new capabilities. Compared to 4G LTE networks, 5G is designed to be up to 100 times faster, support up to 100 times more connected devices per unit area and reduce end-to-end latency by up to 10 times. 5G will enable advances like autonomous driving, remote surgery and more.
Key Benefits of 5G
Here are some of the key benefits that 5G aims to deliver compared to previous wireless generations:
- 5G is designed to deliver peak download speeds of up to 20 Gbps, enabling users to download an HD movie in seconds.
- Typical download speeds are expected to realistically be in the range of 1 Gbps, still around 10-20 times faster than typical 4G speeds today.
- Latency refers to the time it takes for devices to communicate with each other over the network.
- 5G aims to enable latencies of 1 millisecond or lower, which is crucial for time-sensitive applications like autonomous vehicles.
- 4G networks today have latencies in the range of 50 milliseconds.
- 5G will support up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometer compared to around 100,000 devices on 4G.
- This enables tremendous scale for the Internet of Things (IoT), allowing massive machine-to-machine communications for automation.
- 5G utilizes spectrum better, enabling more stable connections even when mobility, dense population or obstructions are factors.
- Features like beamforming increase reliability by directing signals efficiently.
- 5G is designed for 99.999% availability and 100% coverage.
Lower Power Consumption
- Although 5G enables faster speeds, it is designed to be up to 90% more energy efficient per traffic unit compared to 4G.
- This is achieved through more efficient hardware and networks designed to intelligently power down during idle times.
How 5G Works
5G uses a combination of new radio technologies to dramatically increase bandwidth, reduce latency, improve data rates and deliver new capabilities compared to 4G LTE networks. Here are some of the key radio technologies behind 5G:
Millimeter Wave (mmWave)
- mmWave utilizes very high frequency radio waves between 30-300 GHz to enable faster speeds.
- mmWave signals have limitations around range and obstructions but enable more capacity.
- MmWave will be used for dense, high-traffic areas and Fixed Wireless Access.
- Small cells like microcells, picocells and femtocells provide localized coverage that complement traditional macro cell towers.
- Small cells enable network densification to add capacity in high traffic areas.
- Massive MIMO uses multiple antennas simultaneously to enable more users and devices to connect concurrently within a cell.
- Advanced beamforming improves speeds and reliability.
- Full duplex allows for simultaneous transmission and reception using the same frequency band.
- This doubles capacity compared to 4G networks.
- Network slicing enables multiple virtual networks to be created on top of a common physical infrastructure.
- This provides optimization for different applications from IoT to autonomous cars.
Use Cases and Applications
5G aims to not only enhance today’s mobile broadband services but also expand connectivity to new industries and applications. Here are some key 5G use cases:
Enhanced Mobile Broadband
With 5G, consumers will see:
- Faster downloads and uploads
- Near-instant access to cloud services
- More responsive networked gaming experiences
- High-quality video conferencing and collaboration
5G enables reliable low-latency connectivity for services like:
- Autonomous vehicles, drones, robotics
- Industrial automation
- Public safety and emergencies
- Remote patient monitoring and telehealth
Massive Internet of Things (IoT)
5G scales to connect exponentially more smart devices including:
- Smart homes and buildings
- Smart cities and infrastructure
- Logistics and shipping
- Agriculture and environmental monitoring
When Will 5G Arrive?
5G is starting to be deployed now globally, although broader mainstream rollout will continue over 2020 and beyond. Here is a look at the timeline:
- 2018 – Early 5G deployments started. Most implementations used non-standards based pre-5G technology.
- 2019 – 5G standards were approved and finalized. Carriers began wider rollouts particularly in Asia and the US. Devices launched.
- 2020 – Broader global adoption of 5G begins. Carriers expand coverage in major cities. Variety of 5G devices continues to grow.
- 2021 and beyond – Wider deployment throughout countries and rural areas. Maturing of 5G technology and shift from early adopters to mass market.
According to Ericsson, 5G coverage is forecast to reach 45% of the world’s population by end of 2024. This indicates we are still in the very early stages of 5G with broader adoption continuing over the next 5+ years.
5G Frequency Bands
5G operates on three key frequency bands:
Low-band 5G – Below 1 GHz. Offers good coverage and wall penetration but lower speeds and capacity. Uses similar frequencies as 4G LTE like 600-900 MHz.
Mid-band 5G – From 1 GHz to 6 GHz. Offers balanced speeds, latency and coverage. Includes bands like 3.5 GHz which is a global 5G priority band.
High-band mmWave – Above 24 GHz into higher frequencies like 26, 28 and 39 GHz. Offers ultra fast speeds but limited range and penetration. Used in dense urban areas.
Carriers are utilizing a mix of these frequency bands to deliver nationwide 5G coverage. Lower bands extend coverage while higher mmWave bands offer fast speeds in targeted areas.
Limitations and Challenges
While 5G aims to be a major leap forward for wireless technology, there are some limitations and challenges ahead:
- Infrastructure Investment – Building out 5G networks requires massive capital investment by carriers. MmWave deployments in particular are expensive.
- Limited Coverage Initially – Early 5G deployments focus on high traffic urban areas. Rural and suburban coverage will lag.
- Patchy mmWave Coverage – mmWave signals propagate poorly through walls and have very limited range. This requires a dense network of small cells.
- Behavior of mmWave Unknown – mmWave technology is untested at scale and will present new radio engineering challenges.
- Ecosystem Availability – 5G standards are finalized but broader ecosystem of devices is still evolving.
Despite these challenges, the 5G rollout will accelerate as carriers densify infrastructure and broaden coverage. Over time, the technology will mature just as 4G did earlier.
- 5G is the next generation wireless network that aims to be significantly faster, low-latency and more reliable than today’s 4G LTE networks.
- Speeds of up to 20 Gbps, latencies of 1 ms and 99.999% availability enable new capabilities across industries.
- 5G uses new radio technologies like mmWave and network advancements like network slicing to optimize for new use cases spanning from mobile broadband to autonomous vehicles and massive IoT.
- The rollout of 5G is happening globally starting in 2019, with coverage expanding through 2025 and beyond.
- 5G will drive economic growth through new user experiences, business models and industries, but requires significant infrastructure investment.
5G represents a significant leap forward for wireless networking technology with the potential to further expand the role of mobile connectivity. While early 5G deployments are now underway globally, realizing the full vision and possibilities of 5G will continue to evolve over the next decade. From enhanced mobile broadband to life-changing new applications, 5G lays the groundwork for the next generation of innovation and disruption. There is tremendous excitement in the mobile industry for what the future holds with 5G.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is 5G?
5G is the 5th generation of wireless networks that aims to provide faster speeds, lower latency, and greater capacity compared to 4G LTE networks. 5G uses new radio technology to optimize networks for new use cases.
How fast is 5G?
5G is designed to deliver peak speeds of 20 Gbps. Realistic speeds expected are 1 Gbps, still around 10-20 times faster than 4G.
When will 5G be available?
Limited 5G deployments started in 2019 in some countries. Broader rollout continues through 2025 globally, with coverage expanding beyond major cities and urban areas.
What frequencies does 5G use?
5G uses a combination of low-band, mid-band and high-band mmWave frequencies to balance coverage and capacity.
How does 5G work?
5G uses technologies like mmWave, massive MIMO, beamforming and small cells to increase bandwidth, reduce latency, improve data rates and enable new capabilities.
What can you do with 5G?
5G enables advances in mobile broadband, automation, VR/AR, smart cities, telehealth and more. Consumers will see faster downloads, low-latency apps and near-instant cloud access.
Is 5G safe?
Like all wireless technology, 5G is considered safe by major health agencies like the FCC and WHO when networks comply with international safety standards for radio waves.
Does 5G cause cancer?
No, there is no evidence that 5G networks cause cancer or other illnesses when networks adhere to international RF emission guidelines. 5G operates at non-ionizing frequencies and power levels too low to cause damage to human cells.
How is 5G different from 4G or LTE?
5G is designed to be significantly faster, with lower latency and more capacity. The network architecture is optimized for new use cases using technologies like mmWave, beamforming, MIMO and network slicing.
Will 5G replace 4G?
No, 5G complements and enhances existing 4G networks by utilizing new radio frequencies. Carriers will expand their 4G LTE networks while adding 5G capabilities.
Do you need a 5G phone?
To access a 5G network and faster speeds, you need a compatible 5G device like a smartphone, router or IoT module. Many 5G smartphones launched in 2019 and availability continues improving.
What is the range of 5G vs 4G?
Due to the high frequency of mmWave, the range of 5G is lower than 4G. But through network densification and utilizing lower spectrum, carriers aim to match and even improve 4G coverage over time.
Does 5G require line of sight?
MmWave 5G signals struggle with obstructions more than 4G. But lower frequency 5G is similar to 4G in propagation. Networks are optimized to provide the best coverage possible in all environments.
How much does 5G cost?
5G requires large infrastructure investments by carriers. However, 5G price plans are expected to be competitive with existing 4G/LTE data pricing in most cases.
Will my 4G phone stop working with 5G?
No, existing 4G phones will continue working on 4G networks. However, to access 5G networks and speeds requires a new 5G supported device.
What industries will 5G impact?
5G has the potential to benefit industries like manufacturing, transportation, energy, healthcare, retail, agriculture, media and entertainment. New user experiences will open up new opportunities across many sectors.
Is 5G worth the cost?
The large investments required for 5G are worthwhile given the dramatic increases in speed, reduced latency, network capacity and new capabilities 5G enables. Over time, those network improvements benefit consumers, businesses and society.
Is 5G more dangerous than 4G or 3G?
No, 5G is not inherently more dangerous than existing wireless technology. It operates at similar or lower power levels than past networks. There is no evidence 5G poses health or safety risks when networks comply with international safety standards.
Are 5G towers unsafe?
5G cell towers and antennas adhere to the same international safety standards, regulations and health guidelines as past 3G and 4G networks. There is no evidence that living or working near 5G towers poses a health risk.
Can 5G penetrate walls?
Lower frequency 5G signals can penetrate walls at levels similar to 4G. But very high mmWave 5G has difficulties with obstructions. Advanced beamforming techniques aim to overcome signal blocking as much as possible.
Will 5G replace WiFi?
No, 5G is designed to complement and co-exist with WiFi networks. WiFi will remain the predominant technology for local area connectivity indoors and in homes, businesses, schools, etc.
Does 5G use more radiation?
5G networks overall do not expose users to higher RF emission levels than past networks like 4G when safety standards are followed. Some 5G technologies like beamforming focus signals more efficiently avoiding wasted radiation.
How secure is 5G?
5G has the latest advanced encryption and authentication protocols for securing over-the-air data and signaling. However, like any wireless technology, 5G networks must continue to evolve security mechanisms to stay ahead of emerging threats.