5G Will Make Your Phone Super Fast In A Few Years, But What Is It?

No more waiting and waiting for downloads or streaming

The Mobile Broadband Standard
Feb 15, 2017 at 4:44 PM ET

Wireless connectivity has evolved much since it was first introduced in the 1980’s, and it’ll keep evolving over the next three years in order to keep up with the proliferation of devices that require a faster, stronger Internet connection. Although it will roll out slowly, the next generation of cellular data is already being implemented and was recently officially named “5G.”

So what does “5G” mean? In simplest terms, it means the fifth generation of mobile connectivity that’s destined to replace 4G, which is the common connectivity standard currently throughout the world. Wireless networks have been evolving approximately every 10 years since 1G was implemented in 1982.

Recently, 3GPP — the cellular standards group responsible for the development and maintenance of the Global System for Mobile Communications — officially set out goals and a logo for the next technologies to replace 4G, even though it has not settled on a standard or definition of exactly what 5G is yet.

However, experts and tech companies have already started providing examples of things 5G will be able to do. Compared to the current network speed, which is 4G LTE (long term evolution), 5G is expected to be 30 to 50 times faster. To put things into perspective, it would take an hour to download an HD movie over a 4G LTE network, for which speeds top out at about one gigabit per second. With 5G, and it’s expected download speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, the same HD movie would download in mere seconds.

In a way, getting 5G will be like upgrading from a garden hose to a fire hose. Data may not only stream and download faster, but it’ll do so in higher capacities. Ideally, networks would no longer crash when millions of people are trying to watch the season premiere of “Game of Thrones,” as they’ve done in the past. Streaming higher quality video like Ultra HD and 3D video would also be faster and easier.

Of course, all these promises should be taken with a grain of salt. Advertised network speeds are usually heavily marketed but don’t live up to the expectation. For example, 4G LTE is advertised as being capable of running up to 10 times faster than 3G, but it all depends on the device you’re using and other conditions. So it’s safe to say that, for consumers, 5G should be welcomed but with a bit of skepticism.

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One major goal for 5G is that it’ll be more responsive and reduce latency, which means that when it says “1-minute left” of downloading data, it actually means there’s only one-minute left. It won’t suddenly turn into 5 minutes once that minute is over. Device are also expected to last longer on a charge with a 5G connection since it’ll supposedly be very power-efficient. Experts say that batteries will last 10 times longer than when fetching data from a 4G connection.

Smartphones have become our personal computers on the go and are required to do it all, but they’re no longer the only device in our life that require Internet; we also have smart watches, refrigerators, TVs, speakers and light bulbs. Therefore, 5G is being introduced at a perfect time in which the amount of devices connected to the “Internet of Things” is increasing at a rapid pace.

Gartner, a technology research firm, predicts that there’ll be about 20.8 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. That’s quite a jump from the estimated 6.4 billion devices that are currently Internet-connected today.

Based on the 3GPP’s rollout timeline for 5G, those 20.8 billion devices will all be operating over a 5G network. The 3GPP said 5G will start rolling out in 2018 and be fully implemented by 2020. However, companies such as Verizon already started making plans for consumer deployment starting this year in selected cities across Texas, Oregon and New York/New Jersey. Don’t expect to see a 5G smartphone this year, though.

Since no one is actually using 5G at the moment it’s still hard to know what it can and can’t do, but there’s no doubt that it’ll be faster. It’s also unclear as to how accurate the roll out timeline is. Regardless it’s good to know that new speeds are on the horizon.