By now I believe everyone has heard about the fifth generation of cellular technology that promises to revolutionize the mobile experience as we know it. The technology is simply referred to as “5G” and the hype surrounding it is everywhere. My general rule of thumb for when a technology is in the “hype cycle” is when my friends who don’t work in tech start to ask me about it. I get questions from most everyone these days so I think it is time for me to begin writing about 5G. For some context, check out this blog post from over a year ago where I recount the various generations of mobile/cellular technology—leaving a placeholder for 5G: http://ameetdhillon.com/1-2-3-4-5g-cellular-communications/
I will begin by answering the question I get most often: When will I get 5G service on my phone and what can I do with it?
My simple answer is I doubt if most people reading this article will see a real “5G” bar on their cell phone until at least 2021 (yes, 2 years from now)! But wait a minute, I keep seeing Verizon, AT&T, and others telling me 5G is already here, what gives?
They are not lying, but let’s just say they are doing a great job of “spinning the facts”. First of all, what both of them claim is 5G, is not based upon industry standards. To get out to market early they have essentially deployed “proprietary” versions of 5G. I say this because the official 5G standards were not finalized until late 2018 and are still a bit in flux. All modern mobile technology standards are defined by an industry consortium known as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project or 3GPP and any current 5G deployments don’t meet those standards. To be clear, all service providers (even those with early proprietary 5G) will ultimately deploy 3GPP defined 5G networks. They have no choice because without standards compliance the entire mobile ecosystem (e.g. chip suppliers, phone manufacturers, base station vendors, networking equipment vendors etc.) would not interwork. Service providers deploy early, proprietary technology not just for marketing hype, but also to do some early field trials to figure out what types of problems they are likely to encounter.
To further burst your bubble, even if you do manage to get 5G service on your phone in 2021, I don’t expect you will be overly impressed. One advantage (there are many more) of 5G is faster download speeds (up to 1 Gbps). This is very true and will come to fruition, however, modern LTE networks can easily deliver 20Mbps which is more than adequate for most people. For example, on my Verizon iPhone, I regularly watch live TV broadcasts (think Hulu) or stream high definition YouTube videos without a glitch; including while driving 80 miles per hour down the highway. Do any of you really need more than that on your relatively small phone or tablet screens?
So what will people do with the promised 200-300Mbps or even 1Gbps with 5G? Stay tuned and I will discuss that in my next post titled “The First 5G Service is Boring”.