There is a ton of hype around 5G cellular phone networks in the smartphone industry. You may have heard something along the lines of “5G is coming” or “Cellular Networks prepare to roll out 5G Networks!” The truth of the matter is, 5G is not clearly defined and it can even be a bit “dubious” in terms of just how much better it is vs. current cellular data networks.
The confusion (and maybe even intentional misinformation) is that 5G can be up to 1000x faster than current 4G networks or it can be as just a little bit faster with just a 15% bump up in speed. Sorry to disappoint, but the first “5G” networks and “5G” smartphones are not going to usher in a new era of Star Trek for humanity.
A history of cellular data
The first cellular 1G network was introduced in Tokyo way back in 1979. Later, around 1981, similar networks were introduced in a couple of other countries. The very first analog or 1G system was introduced in America in 1983. Clearly, these early cellular networks were not transmitting internet since the internet was not widely used at that time. In the 1990’s 2G was introduced and by 1993 the very first early smartphone was introduced. This phone was known as the IBM Simon and it could act as a pager, fax machine, phone, and PDA.
Eventually, the demand for data use with cellular phones grew and 2G was too limited. Thus, the birth of 3G cellular networks was born on October 1, 2001. This new 3G network used a technology known as WCDMA and it was launched by a company known as NTT DoCoMo.
Current 4G Networks
As could be expected, cellular data use continued to explode and 3G networks found themselves overwhelmed. Enter 4G, which is what most current networks run on today. The first company to have 4G in the United States was Sprint. Today, 4G networks can have speed up to 50 Mbps. However, 12 Mbps is more common with typical 4G data use. We are now at a point today whereby data use is the single largest portion of a cell bill.
Calling nationwide on a cell phone is free and cheap but data usage isn’t for an obvious reason. As mobile apps have come to power almost every aspect of our 21st-century lives, 4G is now finding itself in the same outdated situation as 3G. Facebook alone has over four billion posts, pictures and even videos shared daily. Mobile phone companies are even introducing nearly 300 new mobile web users every day to our 4G networks.
What is 5G and what can it do?
So at the start of this article, you may recall that the speeds of 5G can vary from many magnitudes faster than 4G to just slightly faster than 4G. So why is this? The highest standard of 5G is known as ITU IMT-2020 and it can go up to 20 gigabits per second (1 gigabit is equal to 954 Mbps…remember, current 4G tends to max out at 50 Mbps, on a good day.) However, don’t expect ITU IMT-2020 to be the gold standard because it has only been demonstrated with what are called millimeter waves of 15 GHz or higher frequencies.
In a nutshell, this high-end version of 5G just doesn’t have the infrastructure in place for it to be widely available by 2020. However, the lower version of 5G, known as the 3GPP standard uses lower frequencies, which means the infrastructure to roll out 5G will be cheaper for cell phone companies to roll out. 3GPP is only going to get a 15% – 50% speed increase over 4G. So, one can expect the first 5G networks to not be that impressive, in terms of the radical speed difference. As the war to have the hottest, latest and greatest smartphone service continues, expect a lot of “cheap 5G” phones on the market.