Welcome to 5G: expanding the information superhighway

Courtesy Verizon Wireless

For some, 5G is nothing more than just a faster version of its predecessor 4G. For others, the possibilities are endless in sectors ranging from healthcare to transportation. 

But what exactly is 5G, anyway, and where is it available? With its rollout across several countries commencing, here’s a breakdown of the next-generation wireless standard. 

What is 5G? 

5G is the 5th-generation mobile network that follows the global wireless standard from 1G through 4G. 

The global telecoms industry has come a long way in the last 40 years with radio network technology developments every decade. 5G is the latest and was designed to “connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects and devices,” according to Qualcomm, one of the tech firms leading the switch to the latest advancement in mobile communications. 

More specifically, 5G looks to offer faster data rates, cost and energy savings, massive connectivity among devices and reduce the milliseconds 4G already takes to process information, otherwise known as “latency,” according to Terry Stenzel, the Southern California vice president-general manager of AT&T, which is also spearheading the way to the new network. 

“You’re going to see, literally, thousands of things connected in every square: street lights, gas, electric, water, all these things,” he said, referring to massive connectivity and ultra-low latency capabilities with 5G. “Then, you’re going to see faster speeds and that will evolve as time goes on and you start adding more capacity and more coverage.”

How fast is 5G? 

5G speeds vary as much of it remains in the beginning stages and will depend on what provider a consumer chooses but peak data rates could hit 10 Gbps, or 10,000 Mbps, “making it 100 times faster than top 4G speed,” according to highspeedinternet.com, which offers internet service provider comparisons across the nation. 

“The fastest type of 5G operates on radio frequencies that previously weren’t used by 4G, so it has a much greater capacity for carrying and transmitting data,” highspeedinternet.com said on its site. “5G also uses technology like MU-MIMO and beamforming (a signal processing transmission) to reduce network congestion and direct radio signals directly to your device.” 

Based on approximate average speeds, 5G could help consumers save plentiful time in many everyday activities, highspeedinternet.com estimated. For example, the average user could save up to 7 minutes with every HD movie download and one entire day per month from faster streaming and downloads on gaming, music, movies and TV. 

5G use cases

With faster speeds and improved performance, 5G is paving the way to boost operations across various commercial and industrial sectors, such as in healthcare for remote services, transportation for autonomous driving and even in virtual reality and augmented reality. 

Its capabilities are classified into three categories: 

  • Enhanced mobile broadband, which brings increased data speeds as the need for capacity increases, such as for large crowds or consumers on the go. 
  • Ultra reliable low latency communications, which are features vital for applications ranging from smart grids to remote surgery and intelligent transportation systems. 
  • Massive machine type communications, which ensures that 5G can connect to millions of devices and help pave the way toward smart cities. 

The health care industry is among those benefiting from 5G, according to Stenzel. 

“I’ve had two doctors appointments that have been remote doctor’s appointments. I never would have thought about that before COVID-19,” he said, adding that 5G speeds and low latency will help with more real-time diagnoses. “I had an ankle that was very swollen and I put my foot up on the video, doctor looked at it and could see the discoloring and diagnosed it, and on I went. I think you’re going to see a lot of this in health care environment.” 

Where is it available?  

5G is available now, with global operations launched in early 2019 more than 30 countries, but accessibility is still in the works. 

“By the end of this year over 1 billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, will live in 5G coverage areas,” read a November 2020 mobility report by telecommunications company Ericsson. 

In Santa Clarita, 5G has not yet made its landing but its roll-out could take place in the next one to two years, according to Benny Ives, a city technology services manager. 

“I think we have a deficiency in wireless coverage here; so, we’re hoping that 5G, in addition to the speed and new applications, will provide people with greater connectivity. I think at least we can agree that we’re at least a year or two away.” 

As the 5G roll-out progresses, more mobile devices compatible with the 5th generation network will be released in addition to options carriers already offer.

Is 5G safe? 

All mobile devices and cell towers emit electromagnetic energy. Despite rumors circling that 5G signals affect people’s immune systems or cause other health-related issues, the international scientific consensus is that there is no evidence to support that radio frequency signals cause adverse health effects. The World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and the Food and Drug Administration have agreed but do advise to limit radiation exposure. 

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