Automobile gauge showing Internet download speed
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The transitions between 1G, 2G, 3G and then 4G were all well received by consumers — the difference each transition made to the speed experienced by the end user was palpable.And now, with the eagerly awaited emergence of 5G (which is still a couple of years away from gracing our beloved devices), we're on the cusp of another evolutionary period in the world of wireless infrastructure.

What is 5G

5G, set launch in 2020, is wireless broadband that represents the fifth generation of mobile cellular networks and promises speeds 10 to 20 times faster than today's 4G cellular networks. Based on 802.11ac standard 5G is actually an umbrella term, according to Ivan Seskar, co-chair of the IEEE 5G Initiative Testbed Working Group and IEEE Senior Member, that represents a multitude of technologies like millimeter waves, beamforming, small cells, massive MIMO and full duplex.

5G Will Be “A Transformative Experience”

Tim Sherwood, VP of Mobile Strategy at Pune, India-based Tata Communications, explained the concept further:

“5th generation wireless systems are enhanced networks that will provide greater speed, lower latency and the ability to connect several devices at once. It will dramatically increase the speed at which data is transferred across the network. 5G will make it easier for people to download and upload video and support thousands of internet-connected devices,” he said.

CMSWire also spoke to Jason Elliott, 5G Market Development Manager at Espoo, Finland-based Nokia, to get his take on 5G. According to Elliott,  5G is going to be a huge technological shifts that will drive fundamental changes in our communications infrastructure

“ It’s so much more than just faster internet — it will be a transformative experience. Today, we may be at the beginning of a change that is more far-reaching than the launch a decade ago of the iPhone, which started a revolution in the mobile handset market, as well as changing the lives of consumers and the business models of many industries."

As for how 5G will work, WIRED reported that 5G networks will operate in a high-frequency band of the wireless spectrum, most likely between 30 GHz and 300 GHz, in what's known as the millimeter wave spectrum — which is something we’ll touch on later in this article.

5G Vs 4G: What's Changing?

5G is going to be faster than 4G, without a doubt. But it’s not just speed that we’re getting an upgrade on. According to Manish Vyas, President, Communications Business, at London-based Tech Mahindra, the 5G network “[won’t] just be about higher throughput, coverage and capacity, as we saw in the transition from 2G to 3G to 4G. It will be more about the services and applications that are enabled because of it. This includes the deluge of devices due to IoT apps and critical use cases like remote health monitoring and smart agriculture that demand lower latency and highly energy efficient networks,” he said.

Sherwood also explained that 5G will far outpace the 4G speeds we’re currently used to. “The leap in quality from 4G to 5G will be huge, and much more significant than the jump from 3G to 4G was,” Sherwood claimed.

Currently, according to Sherwood, 4G LTE transfer speeds max out at about one gigabit per second. At that speed, a short HD movie takes about an hour to download. 5G, he says, will increase download speeds up to 10 gigabits per second, meaning a full HD movie could be downloaded in a matter of seconds. It will also reduce latency significantly, giving people faster load times.

Finally, Scott Stonham from the Transformative Technologies Department at London-based IHS Markit, explained that the 4G networks we see today still have some way to go until they reach the maximum theoretical 4G capability.

“4G is still evolving and the fastest possible speed is currently close to one gigabit per second (Gbps); however in [our]’ scientific testing, we’ve not seen speeds faster than 425 megabits per second (Mbps) -- e.g., less than half the maximum theoretical speed. Even so, these speeds are few and far between. Theoretically, 5G could deliver speeds in the region of 10s of gigabits per second, meaning it could be more than 20x faster than the fastest 4G we’ve seen today,” Stonham revealed.

Furthermore, remember those millimeter waves discussed earlier? On 5G, each wave will transfer more data at higher speeds. The only downside is that they don't travel as far as the lower-frequency waves used in 4G networks — and that’s something that 5G researchers and investors like Intel and Qualcomm are working to mitigate.

All in all, we can expect faster web browsing experiences and more services (and maybe even more devices) hitting the market thanks to the rapid wireless connection speeds afforded by 5G.