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How Does 5G Work and What Changes Can We Expect?

by Ryder Lund
5G Network Explained

Chances are you’ve probably heard about 5G, it’s the main theme of most advertisement campaigns that phone and internet providers push out in the past few months, even Apple jumped on that ship. Whether you’ve only just heard of 5G or are already using it, you might have some questions about 5G and be wondering if it’s really as revolutionary as it’s being hyped up to be, so let’s dig in to the topic and get you some answers.

What is exactly 5G?

It is the 5th generation of the technology standard for mobile networks, thus the name 5G. It’s a substantial improvement upon the previous generations of mobile networks like 4G and 3G.

In addition to making faster download speeds possible, 5G is also designed to be lower latency and to provide an overall more stable and widely available network. 5G still has ways to go in making these things a reality, but the foundation is being set.

In theory 5G networks could eventually allow download speeds as fast as 20 Gb/s, but most people will not see speeds much faster than 4G LTE for now. There are a variety of reasons for this, such as the frequencies and channels used by 5G, hardware used for testing and the configuration of the network you’re connecting to.

4G LTE download speeds are usually between 5 and 12 Mbps (Megabits per second) and upload speeds between 2 and 5 Mbps, with a possible maximum of 50 Mbps of download in some areas.

How does 5G work?

One of the more important things to understand about 5G is the different frequency ranges or bands that it is divided into.

Low band, mid band and high band are the divisions, each having their own advantages and disadvantages.

  • Low band frequency signals can travel greater distances, giving better range, but slower speeds. Sometimes even slower than 4G.
  • High band frequency signals are relatively short range, but very fast. Being higher frequency is part of it, but high band 5G can also make use of multiple channels at the same time, as many as eight simultaneously. Low band and mid band 5G can use multiple channels as well, but not as many.
  • Mid band is in between low and high band in terms of range and speed, as you may already have guessed. Mid band was found to be one of the best ways to deploy the 5G networks, partly because of this middle ground.

Mid band 5G started out being mainly used in other countries, but US companies are making wider use of these signals now as well.

What will happen to 4G and 3G? Will they shut down?

Neither 3G or 4G are going away just yet, but cellular companies are planning to begin shutting down the old 2G and 3G networks in the coming years. 4G should be here to stay quite a while, however. 5G is still very new and 4G is still widely used and very useful.

In fact it can coexist and cooperate with 5G in some interesting ways.

4G and 5G networks can have quite a bit of frequency overlap, which can allow devices to seamlessly switch between the 2 networks as needed. It’s also possible for 5G and 4G signals to be used at the same time on one device through different channels, allowing for faster speeds.

While 5G continues to expand, 4G, especially 4G LTE, is still the main high-speed mobile network in many places where it’s almost as fast or even faster than 5G. Rather than being an immediate, direct speed upgrade to 4G, 5G is more about getting mobile networks ready for the future.

Eventually the 5G network will offer higher speeds for everyone, but more importantly it will be able to handle more users simultaneously and over longer distances, as well as help connect more devices in new ways.

How will cellular companies implement 5G?

Each company has their own strategies and deployment plans. Some are more focused on availability, while others have prioritized the speed of the network.

T-Mobile seems to be more focused on widespread coverage of its 5G network by using mainly low band and mid band 5G. This means having lower average speeds, but being available to many more people. They do have the high speed, high band 5G in a few cities, though.

AT&T and Verizon are putting a bit more focus on high band 5G. AT&T has what they call 5G+ available in parts of around 36 cities across the US, although it’s only really available to business right now.

Verizon currently offers what they call their Ultra Wideband 5G in around 50 cities, according to their coverage map. Both use what’s known as millimeter wave, or mmWave, which is the highest frequency and fastest 5G available.

mmWave 5G is the highest frequency and fastest 5G network, but limited in coverage. Only AT&T and Verizon are currently offering it. T-Mobile’s focus is a widespread approach where they will be using the slower low and mid band 5G, but cover a larger area with it.

For the rest of the country, however, places that show 5G coverage will mostly offer either low band or mid band 5G mixed in with 4G LTE. It’s likely that as time goes on mmWave 5G will become more widely available from each carrier and also that the speed of existing low and mid band 5G networks can be increased as more frequencies become available and the technology is optimized.

How 5G could affect everyday internet use

Most companies are focusing on promoting the actual speed fo the 5G network, but there’s much more behind those numbers. Here are a few examples on how 5G could affect your everyday life:

  • Faster syncing with iCloud, Google Drive, Samsung Cloud, Dropbox and other services. Having both high upload and download speed will also make cloud storage much quicker and more convenient. Instead of having to worry about having enough space on your phone when taking photos or videos, they can be uploaded in real time through 5G.
  • Streaming over Twitch, Mixer, Facebook Live or any other platform. There will be less hiccups, lag or ping issues while streaming over a 5G network.
  • Improved ping and reduced package loss for online multiplayer games. Games like Fortnite, Apex, LoL, Warcraft and similar will, again, work much better over a faster network and could even compete with Wi-Fi 6.
  • Cloud Gaming Services like Nvidia Now and Google Stadia will finally shine. Cloud gaming providers rely on fast download and upload speeds, and with 5G behind them they will finally be able to match the performance of console and PC games.
  • Turn-key solution with one internet provider. As some do now even with 4G mobile data, 5G through your mobile provider could also be used as your main internet with the right provider and plan. This could be especially viable if you live in a city that has mmWave 5G and can get an unlimited data plan. Verizon even has a 5G Home Internet plan that’s separate from your voice and data package, but costs less if you already have one. This way you can have high speed internet access that’s as fast or faster than many cable and fiber internet providers, both at home and on the go through one provider.

What can businesses do with 5G?

There are a lot of hopeful plans that various companies have for 5G as it becomes more widespread.

One of the things often talked about with 5G is its potential to help expand what’s known as The Internet of Things(IoT). Basically, all the smart devices out there that work and talk to each other through the internet.

Being able to remotely monitor and control things with low latency would be advantageous to a lot of different businesses. For example, manufacturers being able to instantly monitor production lines from wherever they are. 5G could even be important to those in the medical field, allowing nearly instant transferring of high resolution patient scans, or even to perform remote surgeries.

Another interesting industry that could be helped with a 5G powered IoT is that of self driving cars.

Being able to very quickly send and receive data online as well as communicate with other cars and devices could make self driving cars more easily recognize each other and be a lot faster at recognizing potential dangers, making them safer.

So while 5G may not make too much of a difference for the average person right now beyond possible faster mobile internet access, eventually it could make a big difference in all of our lives by enabling advanced technologies that can both improve and save lives.


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