By Derek Kartalian
Wireless connectivity is finally getting an upgrade. After years of planning and development, 5G connectivity has started to become a reality. Once fully operational and implemented on a wide scale, this new form of connectivity will allow for far greater data transfer speeds across all mobile devices, transform the use of current technologies, and spur technological innovation. Several emerging industries, including driverless cars, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR), are expected to greatly benefit from the steep increase in data transfer speeds.
Currently, each iteration of wireless technology is given a designated number as well as a generation. As such, the progression throughout the history of mobile devices has been 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE, and is now being followed by 5G. As has been the case for the creation of previous networks, large telecommunication companies have been independently developing proprietary 5G networks to serve their respective customer bases. Each company’s network varies in frequency, coverage, and usage. Some networks focus on either mobile or home connectivity, while others provide service to both. For example, T-Mobile’s mobile 5G network is expected to achieve full national mobile coverage by late 2019 or early 2020.
4G, or LTE, networks—currently the fastest type of mobile network—can transfer data at speeds up to around 100 megabits per second. HD movies take about 15 minutes to download on the fastest LTE networks. In comparison to this existing capability, 5G networks will be able to provide data transfer speeds around 10 gigabits per second, nearly 100 times faster than LTE networks. In addition to far superior data transfer speeds, 5G networks also have much lower latency, or momentary delays, in service. While these upgrades have yet to become widely available, with current technologies remaining incompatible as devices are replaced, upgraded, or outfitted with new antennae bands, 5G networks and the data transfer speeds they provide will drive innovation.
Many new technologies will be enabled by and benefit greatly from 5G connectivity. One of the largest barriers to the implementation of self-driving cars is available mobile data transfer speeds. In order to load the algorithms, navigation systems, and location tracking capabilities required to have functioning autonomous vehicles, faster and more reliable networks are required. The implementation of 5G networks is thus essential to the development and use of such vehicles. Additionally, the safety concerns associated with driverless cars have the potential to be mitigated with a lower latency network; gaps in service could mean fatal crashes due to systems that rely heavily on continuous data transfer. Presently, mobile networks take around 100 milliseconds for information to travel from end-to-end, while 5G networks are estimated to have latency delays of only 1 millisecond.
In addition to self-driving cars, virtual reality is another early-stage technology for which 5G can facilitate growth. Virtual reality media content is essentially a large rectangular image that is stretched and available to view at any angle, creating an immersive 360-degree experience of content unlike any other form of entertainment. However, since required media files are very large, the data transfer speeds required to effectively stream and experience virtual reality are extremely high. To experience high-quality VR content, devices require speeds near 600 megabits per second. By contrast, the average high-definition television operates on speeds around 100 megabits per second. This massive difference in operating network speed limits VR to home entertainment systems running on high-speed home Wi-Fi networks. Once implemented, new 5G networks would enable high-quality VR content for mobile devices, offering the opportunity for new forms of entertainment and communication. With the use of 360-degree cameras allowing for the capture of VR-like video, 5G networks have the potential to provide a more immersive experience for various forms of digital communication, including video chatting.
Utilizing VR technology for communication breaks down technological barriers and creates a far more immersive experience. On the consumer side, video chatting in VR allows for people to feel the human presence of the other person without them actually being there. The ability to view gestures and all the subtleties of human emotions remove the disconnected feeling of calling someone on a phone or just seeing a face on a screen. This communication potential can be applied into other industries, such as the medical field. Doctors could soon have the ability to fully view patients from the comfort of their home, removing the inefficiencies of the medical and hospital system.
While virtual reality is primarily focused on engaging and immersive experiences, augmented reality merges virtual objects with the real world. AR technology already exists, and it is used in several phone applications such as Snapchat and the game Pokémon Go. Each app has features that allow users to project, or superimpose, small graphics onto real world surfaces through the camera of their smartphone. AR is progressing towards holograph-like entertainment and navigation systems, and has the potential to be applied in nearly every industry. Similar to VR, AR could be used by doctors to more effectively view patient health data and anatomy or provide extremely detailed guides for certain procedures. These more advanced forms of AR require the constant uploading and downloading of data, so these forms will also require lower latency networks to effectively transfer data and operate.
Although 5G is progressing domestically, there is an international competition to be amongst the first adopters of this new technology. On April 3, 2019, Verizon launched 5G service to parts of Chicago and Minneapolis, and the two largest South Korean telecom companies deployed 5G connectivity to half of the country’s population. These moves forward demonstrate how 5G is starting to make its way around the globe; however, consumers have not begun adopting 5G-compatible devices en masse, as current devices are not compatible with this upgrade in connectivity.
The creation of 5G networks will be a large step forward for technology, which will have massive impacts on society. Many emerging technologies rely on available connectivity networks, and newer ones are likely to appear following the widespread implementation of 5G. These new technologies will improve aspects of life, ranging from communication to the creation of smart and technology-infused cities. The entire world is becoming progressively more interconnected, and the deployment and use of 5G technology will continue to bridge gaps between different parts of the globe.