What is 5G?

The prospect of 5G service, the fastest wireless internet connection that devices have ever seen, has consumers and businesses alike buzzing with excitement. But what exactly is 5G?

A Brief History

On October 23, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released FCC-15-138, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposed new rules to give mobile devices access to wireless frequencies above 24 GHz, allowing for 5G. This fifth generation of wireless connectivity “can potentially take hold and deliver benefits to consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy”, according to the FCC.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gives a brief explanation in the video above on what 5G is and what it means for the future of technology. The chairman is excited about 5G’s potential, citing new developments as the reason the FCC is “aggressively” moving to make 5G a reality.

“In short, 5G will help enable cutting-edge applications like the Internet of Things and other novel ideas we can’t conceive today.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

How does it work?

5G will use spectrum bands, as opposed to the fiber optic cables that the internet currently runs on. These bands, with frequencies above 24 GHz, already run through power lines. For 5G to work, these frequencies must be made accessible to a wider variety of devices.

In addition, a new tech advancement which the FCC calls the “millimeter-wave (mmW) mobile opportunity” is what will give smartphones the ability to connect to higher frequency spectrum bands. Physically, a smartphone has to have the hardware and software that can connect to a higher wireless frequency. That’s why 5G hasn’t been established yet, even though the spectrum bands to allow for it already exist. These mmW bands will set up “a regulatory framework” on which 5G connection can be established.

What can a 5G connection do?

According to the NPRM, 5G “provides a path for a variety of platforms and uses” to coexist, allowing for connectivity in “both local area and wide area networks”.

Connecting to these higher frequencies will allow for the fastest internet speeds that have ever been possible on mobile devices and other services. Compared to 3G and 4G LTE, 5G will have a lower latency (the time it takes for data to load onto a device).

How fast these 5G speeds will be is still being tested as more research is done and more tech developments are made. In 2015, The Washington Post reported that 5G will be “ten times [faster than] what is currently available”. However, earlier this month, Harvard Business Review reported that “5G networks will be as much as 100 times faster”.

When will 5G become a reality?

Unfortunately, there is no set date–not even a set year–for when 5G spectrum will be available. There are too many factors at play and issues that need to be resolved before 5G can be introduced.

Earlier this year, the FCC released their “5G FAST Plan” which describes their 5G implementation strategy. The three main methods they outlined are as follows:

  1. Push more spectrum into the marketplace
  2. Update infrastructure policy
  3. Modernize outdated regulations

There will also be a physical implementation involving modifications to infrastructure such as buildings and light poles which will be necessary in setting up 5G connections. One possible way to modify infrastructure is beamforming, which Ericsson describes as directing “radio energy through the radio channel toward a specific receiver”.

In essence, what needs to happen before everyone can have mobile 5G connection is establishing licenses and regulations–which can take quite a long time. Licenses have to be created (and paid for) for every radio frequency, every county, every land developer, etc. These new licenses and laws will protect users and allow for the spectrum bands to be accessible to more devices and platforms.

So, what now?

5G is being marketed as the catch-all solution to the world’s technological barriers. Its predicted benefits include innovations in the Internet of Things, health care, smart cities, and even agriculture.

It seems like all consumers can do now is wait, possibly on slow devices with long download speeds, for 5G to be released.

Originally posted on LinkedIn