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What to Expect from 5G

What to Expect from 5G

Newly-approved 5G technology is still years away — but here’s what we know so far

August 25, 2016

Last month, the U.S. government announced plans to pursue the development of 5G wireless networks across the country. Through a $400 million research program called the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative (AWRI), the National Science Foundation will utilize high-speed airwaves to test the capabilities for implementing 5G nationwide.

According to the FCC, the hopes are that 5G will be ready to go live in 2020 after several years of testing in various cities throughout the U.S.*

But while the idea of new wireless technology is certainly exciting, many are questioning whether or not it’s necessary. As one expert puts it, “the main gripes that people have with their mobile service today are coverage and price – neither of which are problems that need a new generation of mobile tech to solve. Throw a bit of cash into building out LTE and LTE-A and much of these headaches would go away, yet the industry is ploughing full steam ahead into 5G.”†

So what’s the deal with 5G? As it turns out, the industry is likely queuing up this new technology as a proactive solution for the wireless problems of the future.

Frankly, it’s tough to predict how 5G could change the wireless environment on any scale, either nationally or globally, because so little is known about it at this stage—but we can make some educated predictions.

 

What Could Change for the Industry

To achieve these goals, the wireless industry will likely have to make big changes in the coming years.

For Regulators – The 5G Standard

With this new technology on the horizon, increased capability and performance will be essential to creating an enhanced experience worthy of being labeled “the next big thing.” The problem is, the wireless industry and industry regulators must first get on the same page when it comes to necessary standards, spectrum assignments and other rules.

According to TechRepublic experts,† 5G will (or should) be capable of at least these three main criteria:

1. The ability to deliver a 1Gbps downlink initially (and multi-gigabits in the future)
2. Latency under one millisecond
3. More energy efficient than its predecessors

For Developers – Wireless Spectrum

For one, network developers for AWRI will need to overcome a variety of technological obstacles to solve the problem of inadequate wireless spectrum capacity, in addition to cutting network latency and network access time to facilitate 5G-based technologies.

According to Thibaut Kleiner, head of the European Commission’s CONNECT (Communications Networks, Content, and Technology) Directorate-General, “spectrum is and will remain a major challenge for the success and early rollout of 5G. We don’t have enough spectrum in general and 5G is a lot about optimising the use of spectrum. But clearly, allocating more spectrum to 4G and later 5G would help and this is a global challenge… An additional challenge will be to find a globally harmonised band for 5G roaming since all suitable spectrum is already in use in one or another part of the world.”†

Network developers will also need to solve the problem of how 5G technology will overcome the obstacles of previous technology; namely, traveling over long distances and penetrating objects and buildings.‡

For Carriers – Mobile Device Market

New wireless technology will provide wireless carriers with the opportunity to roll out new networks and devices on a global scale.

Regarding the future of the 5G mobile device market, experts predict‡ that “early phones will be expensive and struggle with poor battery life, unstable connectivity and an inability to interact smoothly with earlier wireless standards like the current 4G LTE system…But these issues will be resolved by 2020 and 5G-compatible phone sales will exceed 300 million by 2025.”

 

What Consumers Can Expect

At this stage, experts predict that wireless pricing could change drastically for consumers, becoming parsed based on speed, network quality and individual user consumption: “Packages may be segmented along service lines – all the video or music streaming you can eat for a certain price with quality of service thrown in.”†

In addition, with the faster, more widespread capacity that 5G offers, consumers could be looking at enticing new 5G-based technology. One of the most noteworthy of these is the possible capability for cloud-based autonomous driving systems over 5G networks. In other words, self-driving cars could have a real, widespread future with this improving technology (long-distance commuters, rejoice!).

Obviously, as with any groundbreaking technology on the horizon, it’s hard to predict the implications and technologies that will arise as a result of 5G’s implementation. Until we know more, the rest is all speculation and dream fodder for the possibilities of a better, faster and stronger wireless environment.


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* Plaugic, Lizzie. US government launches $400 million initiative to research 5G wireless networks, The Verge. Vox Media, Inc.
† Best, Jo. The race to 5G: Inside the fight for the future of mobile as we know it, TechRepublic. CBS Interactive.
‡ Pressman, Aaron. New 5G Technology Will Speed Up Mobile Phones, Eventually, Fortune.com. Time Inc.