We hear about 5G rollouts across the world, but there's still a great deal of confusion for American consumers.
There are still more questions than answers when it comes to 5G. We'll attempt to give you a little more insight today.
On the phone front, Samsung S10 5G and LG’s V50 ThinQ are slated to hit the US market later this year. A 5G version of the upscale Samsung Fold is mooted but with no firm carrier announcement.
Note: Some specifics regarding phones and carriers are accurate at the time of writing but subject to noticeable change.
At the moment, then, from the US to the Middle East, we hear a great deal of marketing hype from telecom companies without too much action. That is changing, as you’ll see following our overview of 5G, but is it still all talk?
Before we explore why things are currently not firing on all cylinders, what is 5G exactly?
What Is 5G?
Brewing for the better part of a decade, 5G is the latest iteration of cellular mobile comms, unsurprisingly the fifth generation.
The idea is that 5G will ultimately replace 4G LTE while in the meantime augmenting the current standard.
Both download and upload speeds will be dramatically improved.
Although 5G might seem like the latest in a long line of similar cellular communications, it varies substantially from 4G LTE in several ways.
Latency will also drastically decrease and is simply the time it takes devices to communicate with each other over wireless networks. Think about the Ping figure on your network speed test: the lower, the better with latency.
The first of these differences is the way 5G operates on three spectrum bands but what does that mean for you?
5G Spectrum Bands: What’s The Story?
Unlike LTE, there are three coverage bands for 5G:
- Low-Band Spectrum
- Mid-Band Spectrum
- High-Band Spectrum
This band of frequencies below 1GHz is the spectrum currently used by most US carriers for 4G LTE. As such, it’s very quickly becoming congested to the point of saturation.
On the plus side, this lower spectrum of frequencies delivers excellent coverage and penetration so what the problem is?
Well, aside from overuse and bottlenecking, data speeds max out at 100Mbps.
After picking up a considerable tranche of the 600MHz spectrum back in 2017, T-Mobile is capitalizing on this auction acquisition by ramping up a 5G low-band spectrum network.
For superior coverage along with improved latency, mid-band spectrum also comes with a severe drawback.
Much like 5GHz WiFi is rapid but struggles to makes its way walls or ceilings, mid-band spectrum frequencies for the new generation of cellular suffers the same fate.
Speed is jacked up, though. 1Gbps is a realistic maximum.
Sprint is the dominant player with these mid-band frequencies.
To address the issues of penetration and also coverage area, Sprint is using Massive MIMO. This physical-layer technology groups large antenna arrays onto a single box of a base station and allows users to receive multiple simultaneous beams.
Combined with this, Sprint is using Beamforming to enhance 5G service generally. By sending a single more focused signal, consistency is improved.
mmWave or high-band spectrum brings latency to an all-time low with speeds ratcheted up to an eye-popping 10Gbps.
Woeful building penetration along with low coverage area are the twin bugbears of this range of frequencies for 5G.
AT&T and Verizon will both roll out 5G on the high-band spectrum. Until networks are built out more robustly, these carriers will take advantage of piggybacking off LTE.
5G on this spectrum uses small cells, very low-power base stations targeting smaller areas geographically and results in ultra-rapid coverage along with low latency for the double-win.
Since the new 5G networks initially use 4G to establish a connection with the cell, 5G wireless devices are also 4G LTE-enabled and also comes in handy in any areas where 5G is not available. (Think of how your 4G handset sometimes reverts to 3G coverage.)
New Generation, New Standards
5G networks meeting IMT-2020 specs will skyrocket device and network capability.
These areas and performance targets are considered central:
- Area Traffic Capacity: Total traffic across the coverage area of 1000 Mbps/m²
- Connection Density: Total number of devices for each unit area of 1 million devices per km²
- Energy-Efficiency: Data sent and received energy consumption per unit equal to 4G
- Latency: 1ms
- Mobility: 500 km/h maximum speed for handoff
- Peak Data Rate: 20Gbps
- Spectrum Efficiency: Throughput at least triple that of 4G
- User-Experienced Data Rate: Achievable data rate of 100Mbps or 1Gbps in hotspot cases
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has divided 5G network services into three broad categories:
- eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband): Handsets
- URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications): Autonomous vehicles, industrial applications
- MMTC (Massive Machine Type Communications) Sensors
5G: Key Benefits
With the technical background in place, how about some of the leading benefits 5G will bring about?
3 of the major draws of this new generation of comms are:
- New Use Cases
As a result of such improved performance across the board, how will 5G be used in the near future?
5 Uses For 5G
Rather than straying into the land of maybes, we'll focus on five core areas where 5G will be pivotal in the coming years
- . Cell Phones
- Updated Mobile Broadband
- Remote Device Control
- Health Care
- Self-Driving Vehicles
We’ll only touch on these briefly although each of these areas is broad and deep with possibilities. We’ll dive down deeper in some separate planned pieces over the coming weeks as 5G develops before our eyes.
1) Updated Mobile Broadband
The original purpose of 5G, initially at least, is to help address the issues affecting mobile broadband.
With carriers in most significant cities rapidly running out of LTE capacity, things have reached critical mass. You’ll almost certainly have noticed this yourself with 4G seemingly slower than your old 3G at peak times of the day.
By throwing those new spectrums unencumbered by commercial traffic into the fray, 5G will lighten the load and speed things up.
As outlined at CES 2019, 5G will ultimately help cities to run more efficiently.
From inexpensive surveillance cameras to ever-more delicate sensors helping local authorities deal with public safety to utility companies able to improve tracking and offer remote services, the impact on the way cities run is set to explode when 5G gets going.
3) Remote Device Control
The incredibly low latency of 5G will make remote control of heavy machinery more widespread and practical as well as less dangerous.
If skilled operatives are in short supply somewhere in the world, expert technicians can wade in from afar and take the helm.
4) Health Care
The ramifications for health care with the advent of 5G are enormous and wide-reaching.
From remote monitoring and smart pills to telemedicine and potentially, eventually, remote surgery, healthcare is on the cusp of some seismic changes.
5) Self-Driving Vehicles
As 5G starts rolling out, expect to see growing legions of autonomous cars.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is one area also sure to gain higher currency with 5G.
We’ve deliberately kept those use cases brief to avoid veering too far from the imminent future but how about the most important factor for smart home aficionados?
How will 5G impact the Internet of Things?
5G and the Internet of Things
While the sensors in contemporary smart home devices are more than capable of communicating, this is achieved at the expense of considerable resources. Also, this is dragging LTE data capacity further downward.
Vastly improved speeds and latency will mean enormous numbers of devices able to connect to one base station. The efficiency of the IoT will soar.
Exciting times loom for home automation once 5G takes hold.
Before we round out with a look at when the marketing fever will translate into 5G handsets in the US, a glimpse at the 5G heavyweights on the world stage…
5G: Major Global Players
The race is on across the world to roll out 5G.
Saudi Arabia announced a massive commercial rollout of 5G back at Mobile World Congress with 10,000 base stations and 100MHz total spectrum offering Saudis the broadest and swiftest 5G coverage in the Middle East. This move is projected to add $19 billion to the Saudi coffers showing the extent of the impact 5G will have once lived.
Despite this, it’s still likely that the first robust commercial 5G services will land in the US, Japan, Korea, and China. As we mentioned, at the moment there's still a lot of talks and minimal action.
So which companies are battling for a slice of this lucrative pie?
While not a serious player in the US, Ericsson is working on some exciting connected vehicle projects with Volvo.
Beyond this, Ericsson is conducting some field trials in tandem with Chinese carriers.
Maybe the old flip-phone provider will make a resurgence using 5G as a platform.
Huawei started the 5G race strong but ran into some serious roadblocks.
Despite boasting over 20 5G contracts around the world, the Chinese firm has come under heavy flak amid security concerns.
There have been outright bans in the US, Australia, and India with many other countries looking to follow the leader.
How this plays out for Huawei remains to be seen.
We're not here to probe whether this is a genuine issue of hardware issues or more of a political move, but the bans have hit Huawei hard whatever the root cause.
Once the darling of cell phones, Nokia is making something of a comeback.
Some huge partnerships with British carriers along with a deal to supply Tokyo with 5G networks for the 2020 Olympics suggest the Finnish company might be making the comeback of the year.
By far the most significant player in the 5G arena, Qualcomm has fully 15% of 5G patents.
From hardware to network solutions to the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform, Qualcomm leads the pack by some distance.
Aside from the S10 5G – more on that shortly – Samsung is also helping carriers with network solutions.
As well as working with AT&T and Verizon, Samsung has been chosen by South Korea Telecom to furnish the company with 5G solutions.
Chinese outfit ZTE closed a deal with the Middle Eastern carrier Ooredoo Group in an attempt to build on work carried out with the Chinese government.
Like all big companies, ZTE is desperate for a slice of the 5G, and the future looks rosy.
So, with that whistle-stop tour of the world, what’s the deal with 5G here in the US?
AT&T vs. Verizon In The Battle For 5G
Verizon has also launched a 5G network in some areas of Chicago and Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, this is still far from encouraging for you, the consumer as of today, mid-April.
With AT&T, there's been some furor about those speed tests being somewhat skewed. We have to say that actual user data has been pretty favorable. Twitter has been ablaze with some pretty heavy-duty triple-figure download speeds. (Upload speeds, to date, have been underwhelming.)
How about the lack of available devices, though?
Well, that is a problem albeit one that early adopters are managing to navigate.
With AT&T, you’ll need the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Hotspot. Promises of a spring launch of S10 5G are looking more realistic now the phone is on the Korean market. For now, that hotspot is the only workable option but here’s the kicker: it’s not available in stores. So, you’ll need to be among a select group of business partners or lucky enough to fall under one of the new 5G markets. It costs $500, so it's certainly not cheap either.
Verizon has edged slightly further ahead with a commercially-available smartphone, albeit one requiring a mod.
This sudden shift happened a bright week ahead of the proposed launch, quite possibly due to developments in South Korea with carriers going live with 5G.
The smartphone is perhaps not what you would associate with early 5G either. You'll need the Motorola Moto Z3 along with a 5G Moto Mod costing an extra $200. It will also run you another $10 a month to receive a 5G service that, in all honesty, is barely fit for purpose right now. While speed tests have shown steady download speeds, latency is not yet what it should be and upload speeds are an utter disappointment.
And then there’s the incredibly sparse coverage.
There we have it as of April 11, 2019.
How things push forward from here is anyone's guess, but we would predict a rapid acceleration now from hollow hype to growingly usable 5G. For cellular service and smart home tech alike, we’re genuinely excited about how things will pan out, and we’re all waiting for those Samsung S10 5Gs to drop.
We would advise waiting a month or two before committing to 5G as the teething problems right now make it a somewhat frustrating undertaking. What we can say with confidence is that 5G will be a game-changer in more ways than you might imagine.
We trust you’ve now got a clearer picture as to why you’re still not able to get going at full steam with the new and improved generation of cellular communication.
We’ve also hopefully given you a little more background information on what 5G is, how it works and why it’s such a potential game-changer. All that remains now is for that potential to be realized so watch this space for updates and more of the latest smart home news.