Home Editor's Picks 5G Networks: What's the Big Deal and Why Do They Matter?

5G Networks: What's the Big Deal and Why Do They Matter?

5G Networks: What's the Big Deal and Why Do They Matter?

By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, InCyberDefense, In Military and In Space News. Veteran, U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force.

When it comes to 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology, cutting through the hype is growing increasingly difficult. Some major mobile carriers are contributing to the confusion. For instance, AT&T has started to call its 4G network “5G Evolution” when it is, in fact, not a 5G network at all.

Get started on your cybersecurity degree at American Military University.

At InCyberDefense, we would like to rise above the noise. Here is a crash course on what 5G means, when it’s coming and how it will change the way we communicate.

Why Is There All This Hype about 5G Networks?

Do you know how you can access information faster on your phone when you’re connected to Wi-Fi than when you’re away from a Wi-Fi source? That’s because when you are out and about, your phone uses 4G or 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks to send and receive data.

There are two primary ways to speed up data transmission and reception. One way is to use global Wi-Fi, perhaps beamed down from satellites like the technology Elon Musk wants to use.

The other jumps from the 4th generation of wireless technology to the 5th with 5G networks.

5G Networks Offer Improved Speed for Data Transmission and Reception

5G networks promise download and upload speeds that are on par with the fastest Wi-Fi sources. The big mobile carriers — such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — are in a race to be the first to go to market with an infrastructure that supports a 5G network.

Verizon fired the opening salvo by launching a 5G network in parts of Chicago in April of 2019 and has been able to manage download speeds of 1.4Gbps – much faster than 4G’s top speed of 300Mbps.

However, it’s worth noting that 4G technology is evolving as well. According to PCMag, the Qualcomm X24 modem, which is built into most 2019 Android flagship phones, supports 4G speeds up to 2Gbps.

How Does 5G Technology Work?

The much faster speeds you have been hearing about with 5G is because this technology uses much larger channels than 4G, coupled with much higher frequencies.

But those higher frequencies come at a cost. The lower the frequency, the longer the wave. Long wavelengths can penetrate walls and buildings pretty easily.

But 5G operates in the short-distance millimeter-wave frequencies. The propagation of signals at millimeter wave range requires a line-of-sight transmission path. As a result, the signals are highly vulnerable to interference from buildings, vehicles and other surroundings.

Currently, a 4G cellphone can receive a signal from a network tower up to 45 miles away. Towers for 5G will have to be both much more numerous and much closer to users to work effectively.

How Soon Will 5G Be Here?

The major carriers are rolling out their versions of 5G at this very moment. However, it is likely that it will be 2020 and beyond before the impact is felt by most Americans.

Naturally, the carriers are starting in major cities. AT&T is launching in cities such as Dallas, San Francisco and Orlando. Verizon is making progress in Chicago, Memphis and New York City. T-Mobile hasn’t announced many details of its 5G plans yet.

What Are the Most Exciting Uses of 5G?

Ultimately, 5G is the natural evolutionary requirement for our data-hungry information society. The data transfer speeds that 5G enables will allow much broader applications of the Internet of Things (IoT). For instance, there could be smart bandages that report to a doctor how well a wound is healing.

In addition, 5G promises broadband media speeds everywhere, all the time. Streaming data would be much less time-consuming.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of 5G networks would be the expected increases in reliability. There would be no more disconnected calls.

In addition, many infrastructure experts would no doubt be excited for 5G applications in industry and transportation. The level of reliability and latency will be vital to smart-grid control, industrial automation, robotics, and drone control and coordination.

And there are potential uses that haven’t been dreamt of yet. Certainly, there will be applications in better patient care, remote industrial machine operation and other revolutionary changes that require 5G technology to mature before they can be conceived.

The 5th generation of wireless technology holds the promise to connect our society even more and represents a major leap into the future.