What Is 5G? A Complete Explainer


5G technology has created a stir among industry experts and consumers because of its speed and range in comparison to 4G. However, it’s not without concerns — namely its cybersecurity challenges and its impact on weather forecasting.

Many people are asking, “What is 5G?” Though the term is widespread, not everyone is familiar with what it entails. 5G is the next generation of cellular network technology and the successor to 4G. After a rough start last year, cell providers seem prepared for a broader rollout of it that should bring coverage to most of the country.

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about 5G — what it is, what makes it different from 4G and what it means for both individuals and businesses connecting to cell networks.

1. The Basics of 5G

5G is the next generation of cellular network technology, an upgrade of the existing 4G. Developers have designed it to provide major updates for those connecting to networks. These enhancements primarily include better speeds — up to 100 times faster than 4GOpens a new window — greater connection efficiency and more support for large numbers of devices connected to the same receiver.

The upgrades will support the progressive “smart” revolution that has led to the rise of IoT, which has caused rapid growth in the number of electronics connecting to networks. Experts expect these numbers to rise as more businesses adopt IoT for real-time data and monitoring purposes. 5G will also help networks prepare for the widespread deployment of new technology — like autonomous vehicles — which rely on real-time connections and are expected to become more popular over the next few years.

The 5G rollout has been slowed somewhat by a few different factors, but providers expect to begin deploying the technology in earnest over this year.

Industry experts predict most of the nation will have 5G coverage within the next few years. 5G provides improved speeds over 4G primarily through the expansionOpens a new window of the available frequency range that data transfers through, as well as enhanced equipment and technology.

Some of the most important of these new technologies are network edge computing and multi-access edge computing, which allow providers to distribute some of the core functions of the 5G network to the network’s edge — where most end-user devices exist. The application of this concept can result in better connections for 5G phones and other end-user electronics.

Other edge network technologies will make up for some of the challenges posed by higher-frequency signals, which propagate less than lower-frequency messages — meaning they don’t travel as far and don’t penetrate through buildings as efficiently. Advanced technologies can allow devices at the edge to help other machines connect to the network, expanding the effective range of these higher-frequency signals.

5G also incorporates massive MIMO (Multiple Input/Multiple Output), which should allow for much higher connection capacity and reduce the impact of interference on electronics connecting to the network.

Learn More: 5G Networks Are Coming, So is a New Set of Security VulnerabilitiesOpens a new window

2. Why 5G’s Rollout Has Been So Slow

Specific technologies that were necessary for 5G to be workable — or a good investment for both consumers and providers — weren’t in place or available until recently.

In America, Qualcomm is the only major manufacturer of cell modems, which allow electronics to connect to networks. Until recently, Qualcomm has only manufactured modems compatible with 5G, meaning devices with that modem could only connect to 5G networks. New electronics using these modems would only have signals in a limited area of the country. Now, however, Qualcomm has launched a new model that is capable of connecting to both 5G and legacy networks.

Devices with this modem can take advantage of the 5G network without sacrificing the ability to connect to existing cell infrastructure. As a result, providers seem more confident about the widespread deployment of 5G.

Learn More: What 5G Means for the Real-Time Data MarketOpens a new window

3. What 5G Will Mean

5G will bring significant benefits and also some complications.

For consumers, it will mean faster downloads and more stable connections, so long as you have a compatible device — such as a 5G phone — and are in range of the network. Businesses will receive many of the same benefits, likely leading to expanded use of real-time data and IoT devices in collecting information and managing industrial and business systems.

5G may pose security challenges, both for the companies and individuals using it. That also includes the providers running the networks because of how 5G distributes critical functions to the network edge.

5G’s use of higher frequencies could also pose serious challengesOpens a new window for weather forecasting. The FCC has arranged for limits on the frequency band available to 5G, which should partially preserve the accuracy of current forecasts. However, 5G will likely make weather forecasts less accurate as it becomes widely used.

4. What to Expect From the 5G Rollout

Providers started to deploy 5G last year but ran into difficulties, which delayed a widespread rollout until this year. Now, the technology is in place for 5G coverage. Both consumers and businesses will likely benefit from the new technology, which provides faster speeds and is better at handling expansive networks.

5G may also, however, create some new problems — making devices less secure and our weather forecasts less accurate.

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