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The cell phone is the crux of communication in the modern world. We have seen it evolve from a wireless version of a landline phone, to become what is now a handheld computer. This has all been possible mostly thanks to the advances in cellular networks.
In the past two decades, we have seen cellular network technology jump leaps and bounds, in terms of call quality, data speeds, as well as coverage area. The current mainstream standard is the fourth generation of cellular technology, better known as 4G.
We’re now ready to jump into the next generation of cellular networks, 5G.
The Evolution of Cellular Tech
Cellular technology was first deployed on a widespread scale in 1979, by NTT, in Tokyo, Japan. Termed 1G, this technology spread to the US, and Europe in 1980. At the time, there were several different standards. In 1991, 2G was launched, streamlining the standards.
2G also brought in data, which paved the way for phones to access the internet, at up to 64Kbps. With mid-generation additions to 2G like GPRS and EDGE, data speeds increased, to up to 384Kbps.
This was followed by 3G in 2001, which also saw revisions that boosted the speed standards to up to 56Mbps.
4G has been a giant leap in terms of speed. Introduced in 2009, 4G also went through revisions, with the latest revision, dubbed LTE-A, going up to 1Gbps in speed.
The pattern is that every generation undergoes revisions, for about a decade, and then the next generation spawns. For a better understanding, read our article explaining the different cellular network types.
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project, also known as 3GPP takes care of the development and maintenance of cellular networks. 5G has been under development for a while, and the 3GPP finally settled upon the initial standards for 5G in 2018.
5G New Radio: The New Standards
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) sets the standards. The 3GPP has to draw up a proposal about implementation that matches these standards and submit it to the ITU. The international standard set by ITU for 5G is labeled as IMT-2020, and it demands speeds up to 20Gbps.
The 3GPP delivers standards in what is termed as “releases”. With regards to 5G, there are currently two releases:
- Release-15 has had two components. The non-standalone component, which builds upon the existing 4G architecture, was finalized by the end of 2017.
- Release-16, finalized in June 2018. This completes the first phase of 5G release and sets the 5G New Radio (NR) standard.
5G Frequencies and Speeds: What’s New?
The core premise of 5G is that it takes the speeds into gigabits per second. As of now, the standard requires at least up to 20Gbps speeds, but this is just the beginning. The speeds are bound to see further boosts as more revisions come.
Speaking of frequencies, 5G operates on a wide range. The frequency range is bigger than all previous networks, starting from as low as 600MHz, up to 71GHz.
This means 5G will use the low wavelength part of the spectrum, also known as mmWave, which lies between 24-100GHz. This is a great boost to speeds, but at the cost of the coverage area.
This also means that the network can utilize beamforming, to focus the signals on areas that have heavier traffic, as opposed to the omnidirectional approach of 4G, and older networks.
5G is supposed to be a big step in cellular network evolution. The industry thinks that this could be the last big generational jump, and will only need small revisions.
5G Chipsets and Smartphones
As we know, every big generation of cellular networks means that you need new smartphones equipped with the technology to be able to use it. The industry has started to roll out hardware, and Qualcomm is leading the way.
Qualcomm has released the Snapdragon 855, which has the X50 5G modem built in. This modem supports 5G, but there is a catch. The speeds go up to a theoretical maximum of 5Gbps, which as we know, don’t come close to the expected standards.
Some of the Chinese smartphone makers have already started marketing with the 5G tag. Xiaomi has unveiled the Mi Mix 3, which is marketed to be a 5G phone. However, the 5G variant isn’t due for market launch until mid-2019. On the other hand, LG has promised to release a 5G phone in the US in early 2019.
Samsung’s S10 is also under development, and will most likely ship with the Snapdragon 855 on board. It’s set for a release in early 2019, as well. As far as Apple goes, it seems like the iPhone will not be jumping on the 5G bandwagon so soon. Apple is more likely to wait until the network is fully standardized.
5G and the Internet of Things
Internet of Things has been a major subject of interest in the past few years, and 5G is looking promising for it. There have been attempts to push IoT before, but they haven’t really materialized well.
If we get the ideal implementation, 5G will enhance the possibilities of integrating IoT with the mainstream networks.
5G works in a range of frequencies that encompasses most frequencies on which local area networks are currently deployed, as well as the cellular network frequencies. 5G is hoping to be more than just a cellular network. Instead, it aims to be the “one true network” that can integrate all wireless communication.
5G also aims to get manufacturers on board to push 5G IoT as the standard. Big names like Qualcomm and Ericsson have already begun doing exactly this.
Of course, there are other IoT standards currently used, that are widely accepted. 5G will integrate some of these, like NB-IoT and LTE-M. This is the big advantage that is likely to make 5G the centre of IoT, as we move forward.
Don’t We Have 5G Networks Already?
Technically, no. 5G networks will first be approved mid-2019. However, in 2018, some US carriers have already started offering 5G network. This is nothing but clever marketing.
Verizon unveiled their 5G home internet service in October 2018. However, this is not really the standardized 5G that everybody is supposed to roll out. Verizon claims that they’re transitioning towards true 5G, as the standardization isn’t quick enough.
I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?! ????
— John Legere (@JohnLegere) October 1, 2018
AT&T has also unveiled its supposedly 5G network, with a hefty price. This is deployed through a router and will cost $499 up front, with a monthly fee of $70 for 15GB of data.
Should You Get 5G Now?
Standardization is a big part of new generations of cellular networks. 5G will see actual deployment sometime in 2019, which means that as of now, any money spent on 5G, is likely to have no future-proofing, or actually be 5G.
Additionally, you might want to hold out even after the initial true 5G launch. This is a big jump for cellular networks, so the best idea would be to give it some time. Once all networks and phone manufacturers start rolling out 5G, you should be good to go.
If you’re considering investing in a faster wireless network for your home instead, check out our article about how Wi-Fi 6 is the next big thing.