When it comes to the next generation of cellular communications, much of the hype around it centers on speed. But the new network will offer more than just faster downloads and streaming; it will enable completely new connected experiences in areas ranging from entertainment, transport and healthcare to business and manufacturing. The key to 5G lies in the fact that it has been designed with innovation in mind. The previous generations of cellular networks were optimized for known services like voice calls and SMS messaging. This approach, while useful, created limitations and inefficiencies. With 5G, the industry has sought to build a platform that can support an endless variety of applications that we don’t yet fully understand or even know exist.
To do this, the new technology has been built with significantly more bandwidth and capacity than its predecessors. This means that it can handle many more devices simultaneously, meaning you’ll be able to use your smartphone without it slowing down or buffering, as well as making it much easier to connect to smart home devices and other IoT gadgets. Another key difference is that 5G will operate in higher radio frequency bands, which are less crowded than the lower frequencies used by current mobile networks. These higher bands, known as millimeter waves (mmwaves), can also travel greater distances, although they can be blocked by objects such as buildings and trees.
To overcome this, the 5G network will be based on small transmitters called base stations that are placed throughout an area, rather than relying on traditional stand-alone masts. The combination of these changes will offer dramatically improved connectivity in urban areas, while still maintaining high speeds and low latency outside of densely populated centres. In fact, it will be possible to download a movie in a matter of seconds over a 5G connection, and the technology will allow for immersive virtual reality and augmented reality applications. The faster data rates and low latency of 5G will also enable advanced computing processing to be carried out remotely, rather than on the device itself, which should reduce power consumption and improve battery life.
Moreover, 5G will be able to provide low latency connections for critical machine-to-machine applications such as self-driving cars and industrial automation. This will increase safety and improve efficiency by enabling autonomous vehicles to communicate with each other and with the surrounding infrastructure, while also allowing remote workers to control machinery from a central location. With standards almost finalized, the first 5G-compatible smartphones and other wireless equipment are expected to be available in 2019 and will begin rolling out globally in 2020. The most exciting developments, however, will occur between 2021 and 2025. This is when 5G is expected to be widely available, and its full range of benefits will be realized.