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Cell phones and wireless technology changed the way we eat, drive, shop, or do most every task. The current generation of mobile telecom service, 4G LTE, allowed us to cut the cord and stream content anywhere. This was a boon for game developers, streaming sites, and cloud computing – none of which would be possible without the fidelity and speed of 4G LTE. But the next generation of wireless technology is poised to revolutionize the way we live even more dramatically than before... in about ten years.
Why the big hype?
Industry pundits have talked up the benefits of 5G technology in recent years, suggesting that this next iteration of mobile technology would deliver gigabit speeds so fast that they’d allow consumers to download a feature-length movie in seconds. The new technology transmits higher frequency signals that move faster and carry greater amounts of data, making tasks like downloading a movie take a fraction of what it did previously. Telecom companies are upgrading infrastructure equipment and launching small-scale tests that enable lightning-fast data connections beginning this week.
Predictions are that 5G speeds could reach 100 times faster than today’s average LTE performance of 50 megabits per second. 5G networks have the potential to hit up to 5 gigabits per second when fully deployed, but recent real-world tests have only delivered about 140 Mbps, or approximately three times current LTE speeds.
Transforming entire industries in ten years
Although we imagined smartphones as the starting point, industry experts are touting the potential of 5G as an industry game-changer in all types of devices.
Self-driving vehicles require the transmission of massive amounts of data from the vehicle, sensors collecting environmental surroundings, other vehicles, weather, and road conditions down the lane. Smart glasses with a 5G connection could rely on external hardware for processing power, lightening the load and making augmented and virtual reality mainstream enough to replace smartphones. The transmission speed of a hundred times that of LTE can eliminate data bottlenecks during emergencies or popular events with massive data traffic like the Olympics.
But don’t expect to see any of that in 2019. Hardware manufacturing and infrastructure build-out are in their infancy so most consumers will start to see faster speeds evolve slowly.
Technology slowly rolling across the US
Infrastructure improvements are necessary before the architecture will be capable of delivering next-generation signals. The faster transmission capabilities depend on smaller millimeter waves which travel short distances. Telecom companies must deploy a dense network of indoor and outdoor antennas that can deliver these signals before widespread adoption is expected. Upgraded equipment is slowly rolling out in large cities in the US, but there is a lot of work to complete before the new standard reaches more remote locations.
The smartphone you own right now does not have 5G capability, nor does any phone currently on the market. Experts speculate that 5G capable phones, the first of which won’t be available until 2019, could cost as much as $300 more than current devices. Phones and other mobile equipment must retain backward-compatible hardware to allow smartphone users to have connections in areas with limited 5G coverage.
What to expect in 2019-2020
Major US carriers plan to make 5G available in limited markets for consumers in 1H19. Even though the networks go live in 2019 and compatible phones are being developed, most people won’t experience the benefits of rapid transmission firsthand until at least 2020.
Expect dramatic changes in the way you do everyday things
Watch for 5G to transform how we view the world once again, opening up the door to products once thought impossible. Industries will reinvent the way work is performed as innovations pour in from the technology sector. Advertising, marketing, and manufacturing will adapt as voice and video become more dominant on the Internet, replacing text-based interfaces.
As the new speed becomes commonplace and reliable, entertainment streaming will be one of the first industries to adapt. Larger libraries, more viewing options, and better search algorithms will be the first feature upgrades you can expect from popular streaming services.
Expect the old communication standards to gradually fade into obsolescence as consumers adapt to smart homes and other products enabled by high-speed connections. Hardware will shrink as companies expand cloud-based computing, and the manufacture of physical formats of books, games, and movies will disappear. Like the move from dial-up modems to broadband connections, the features enabled by the new tech will quickly become part of our everyday lives. Someday you’ll attempt to describe to another generation what the world was like before Wi-Fi.
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