Dissecting the 5G Hoopla

The buzz around 5G at CES 2017 and MWC this year has been louder than ever. Qualcomm even made the bold claim that 5G will be the biggest innovation since electricity. With telecom companies and handset makers eager to ride the publicity wave accompanying this trend, it can be difficult to discern what all the fuss is about. Let’s break it down:

What is 5G? What makes it different than 3G and 4G?

5G is the next standard in wireless communication, estimated to be available by 2020. 3G technology, introduced commercially in 2001, focused on connecting devices that allowed for calls, text and internet browsing. 4G (also known as LTE) was implemented as a stronger, faster mobile broadband replacement of 3G. It allowed for better downloading and file transfers. 5G is meant to improve even further on the 4G LTE foundation, bringing notably increased data transfer speeds (as much as 10X faster), as well as better responsiveness and low latency. In theory, 5G will let you download a full HD movie in just seconds!

Why is 5G getting so much more attention than 4G?

The applications of a true 5G connection are amazing. 5G will better connect and support the numerous devices coming into our lives every day. In fact, a Business Insider report forecasts there will be 34 billion connected devices in use by 2020. 5G is a necessary step towards connecting our entire world, and answering the data demands that 4G is struggling to meet. For example, despite heavy investment to its 4G LTE network, one mobile carrier still found its network overwhelmed during this year’s Women’s March in DC. Considering the regular cadence of events involving large crowds like the Super Bowl, the Olympics and concerts, 5G has a huge opportunity here. Additionally, it is key to the following technologies:

  • Virtual reality: The high definition videos required for quality VR experiences will be able to stream smoothly through 5G, making VR/AR more accessible than ever before.
  • Autonomous cars: In order for autonomous cars to operate successfully, they will need to communicate with the city infrastructure (e.g., street lights) and other vehicles on the road while maintaining a continuous connection to the car’s cloud services. A 5G connection will be critical to help autonomous cars establish this secure connection and enable the vehicle to safely hit the brakes, change lanes and navigate road conditions.
  • Smart cities: 5G applications extend beyond smart cars and homes with the potential to change how entire cities operate. With its promise of low latency and high speed, 5G technology could mean that a smart car senses when the driver has been in an accident and simultaneously calls an ambulance while sending a GPS roadway signal so traffic can be diverted away from the accident. Additionally, the driver’s wearable technology could send a report of the person’s vitals directly to the hospital, cutting down on initial examination time when the ambulance arrives.

Is it possible that 5G is the latest overhyped technology?

Considering the number of high profile companies going all-in on the new broadband network standard, it’s likely that this is much more than a fleeting fad. The race is on to see which technology giants will capitalize on 5G first and bring it to the masses.