5G is coming! Have you heard? It’s going to revolutionize everything and launch us into a tech utopia! No, wait—it’s going to mean the downfall of human civilization! Or maybe, like almost every new technology, it will be worse than we hope but better than we fear. So, let’s leave that debate for another day and discuss what you really want to know:
Table of Contents:
1. What is it?
5G (for “generation”) is the newest round of wireless technology— systems that allow you to send and receive data without a cord.
You’re now used to 4G, the first true mobile broadband generation, which lets you do things like stream Netflix in line at the DMV.
With 5G, you’ll be able to send and receive much more data at once. Imagine a new road with wider lanes, allowing big trucks to drive through with much larger loads. The speed may vary, but the increased capacity means more data gets through at a time.
That’s the upside of 5G; the main downside is that it’s harder to establish widespread coverage. The frequency waves of 5G can only travel short distances and have trouble passing through buildings. Some types require a line of sight to a tower.
So wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon have been scrambling to install “small cell” stations in a few pilot areas, with the intention to roll them out widely over the next few years.
2. Why do I want it?
In addition to mobile devices, 5G will also be available in your home through “fixed wireless.” You’ll have a receiver unit that will communicate with a local broadcasting antenna.
In-home 5G will help to enable the Internet of Things (IoT): your security system, printer, washer and dryer, TV, bathroom scale, coffee maker—even your clothes—will all communicate at extremely fast speeds. Downloads will be fast, too: a whole movie downloaded (not just streamed!) in under 30 seconds.
Gamers in particular may appreciate the improved latency of 5G, meaning the response time between your action and the device’s reaction. 5G can be expected to drastically lower latency, improving not only entertainment but workplace-related tools, machines, and robots.
Other possibilities include real-time remote interactions (such as doctors examining patients or running surgical robots); super high-res music; augmented, mixed, and virtual reality; self-driving cars, and anything involving many small sensors.
3. When will it get here?
Of course, it depends. Each wireless company is rolling out in different areas and at different rates.
AT&T started offering their “5G Evolution” option, but despite the name it wasn’t true 5G. Instead, it refers to improved 4G LTE with speeds rivaling or exceeding early 5G.
In late 2018, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a group of telecom standards organizations, released their first phase of 5G standards, which they’re calling 5G NR (for “new radio”).
AT&T was the first to deploy actual 5G technology meeting the new 5G NR specifications, starting in late 2018, and by February had coverage in about 16 cities.
In general, urban areas will get 5G faster than rural areas, as companies look for the biggest bang for their buck.
4. How do I get it—and how much will it cost me?
There are three parts to the costs of home 5G: the installation, the service, and the devices.
The good news is that installation of 5G is fairly simple. Once you have access to an antenna (usually installed on an existing structure), you can install a receiver unit in its line of sight, and from there you can connect it to a router that will broadcast 5G Wi-Fi throughout your home.
If you’re in one of Verizon’s early rollout cities (and your address is included), you can get your 5G now for $50 per month ($70 if you have no existing account) with no charges for equipment or installation. Installations may use Verizon’s proprietary (pre-3GPP) standard, switching over to 5G NR over time.
AT&T has 5G+ (their name for extra-fast 5G in “innovation zones”) in parts of 35 cities, especially densely populated areas. Their regular 5G should be available in at least 15 cities in early 2020. AT&T will also charge around $50 per month, and will include professional installation.
T-Mobile plans to have its New T-Mobile Home Internet up and running in the next few years, projecting installation in 1.9 million homes by 2021 and 9.5 million customers by 2024. Sprint and US Cellular, too, are working on rollout plans.
The gist: You’ve been hearing the buzz about 5G for a while now, but in 2020 and 2021 you’ll start to see it. If you can hold out a bit longer, you’re bound to have better access and devices. Early adopters can get it soon, if not now; just be ready to wait for the products (and the rest of us) to catch up.