Where 3G brought the internet everywhere and 4G LTE made it faster, 5G NR is meant to bring both the capacity and speed of networks, enabling you to perform 4K VR live streams without a hint of delay.
5G NR, as it’s called, will bring about superfast mobile internet by tapping into new spectrum. We’re expecting to see the first 5G-ready phones in the first half of 2019, although most people likely won’t experience the full benefits of the new technology until about 2020.
Still, 5G NR promises to dramatically improve cellular internet speeds and enable experiences like always connected laptops or livestreaming from VR headsets. The entire mobile industry is excited as hell for it, so here’s a little guide to help you make sense of the hype.
One of the ways 5G will enable this is by tapping into new, unused bands at the top of the radio spectrum. These high bands are known as millimeter waves (mmwaves), and have been recently been opened up by regulators for licensing in parts of USA. They’ve largely been untouched by the public, since the equipment required to use them effectively has typically been expensive and inaccessible.
But technology has improved to the point where the industry collectively believes we can start tapping them for consumer electronics. And since they haven’t been used for much, compared to lower bands, they’re far less congested and can therefore enable super fast transfers. Qualcomm said you can expect “typical speeds” of 1.4 Gbps — that’s twenty times faster than the average US home broadband connection. At peak rates, think 5 Gbps, it’s enough to stream more than 50 4K movies from Netflix at the same time.
Not only that, your phone’s antenna array has to be built in a way that your hand doesn’t completely cover up the receiver at any time. Qualcomm’s solution is to stash tiny antenna arrays in various corners of your phone, and is working with many major smartphone brands on where to place them.
Most people won’t have access to 5G immediately anyway — the rollout is likely to begin in cities and spread out to rural areas, and you may need an expensive, high-end device to tap the new technology at first. Later versions of 5G will also allow things like IoT devices to connect to mmwaves, as well as allow for use of unlicensed spectrum to increase speeds some more. But eventually, it should become as prevalent as 4G is today. When that happens, what a world it will be.