The Race to 5G, What it Means for You

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Things like self-driving cars, wireless homes, and wireless, realistic virtual reality are inventions we view as futuristic and far from becoming reality. However, a new innovation promises to make these dreams reality in the next decade: 5G. 5th Generation wireless networks, or 5G, is the newest, fastest version of mobile wireless networks, one which has been projected to change our world drastically.  

5G is projected to offer speeds up to 10-20 times faster than current 4G LTE networks, lower latency periods, and the ability to connect more devices to each 5G tower. Bearing in mind these benefits, it should be no surprise that major tech companies are racing to be the first to roll out this new technology on a mass scale. It’s the 21st century’s equivalent of the California Gold Rush.  

Within the US, mobile providers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are rushing to be the first to make 5G technology available to major cities. They have all promised to roll out this new technology within the next year, and AT&T has even promised to bring 5G to a dozen cities in 2019.  

However, these claims should be viewed with appropriate skepticism, as AT&T’s ‘5G Evolution’ networks have been shown to perform at comparable speeds to current 4G LTE networks and there is still much work to be done by every provider in order to make this possible. Because 5G operates at a higher frequency, it has a shorter wavelength, which means that more cell towers will be needed than are currently in place. Finding locations for these new towers will take time. Additionally, some 5G wavelengths struggle to pass through barriers like walls, which is an issue providers are working to fix. In a nutshell, despite the claims of many US companies, the dawn of the 5G era is likely still some time away.  

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On the international level, the main competition US companies face is from China. The Chinese government is strongly supporting its major providers, China Mobile and Huawei, with the goal of becoming the first country to successfully develop 5G technology. This would give the Chinese an edge in both the global tech market and in their own technological capabilities as a nation.  

At this point, it appears that the Chinese are succeeding in this venture, as their major providers have all laid out hard deadlines for their 5G rollouts, and have provided specifics such as the exact wavelengths they are using. No US company has done this. It would require great effort and possibly the support of the US government to catch up with the Chinese in the race to 5G.  

A common question regarding 5G is “How exactly will this impact me and my life?” Quite simply, 5G has the potential to drastically change the way people live their lives. Projected 5G speeds far exceed those currently used by most of the population, so it will make things like downloading 4K HDR video in mere seconds and having completely wireless homes possible. 5G will allow for an unprecedented level of interconnection and make systems which are currently cumbersome and archaic seamless and smooth.  

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Because of the increased speeds and number of devices each tower can handle, technology which we once regarded as futuristic could realistically be coming to modern cities in the near future. 5G networks have the capacity to support fleets of self-driving cars, as well as automation on a mass scale for things like delivery of packages. It could truly change what the term “modern life” means.  

Regardless of who becomes the first to bring this new technology to the world, one thing is for sure: the race to 5G is on—and it has the possibility to revolutionize the world in a way that has not been seen since the invention of the mobile phone.  It is arguably the most important international technological race since the infamous “Space Race”, and stands to have even greater ramifications for the world. It is truly one of the most important technological events of the 21st century.   

Jonathan Buck