What will be the “killer app” for 5G?

First off, let me say that 5G is awesome. The idea that I can download stuff on my phone faster than I can download it at home through a wired connection is absolutely amazing. As someone who uses AT&T’s 5G all day, I have to tell you it’s yet to let me down.

And yet, I also have to admit that I don’t use my phone any differently than I did when I had 4G/LTE, or AT&T’s 5G Evolution service which is really LTE-Advanced. Why? Because to be real with you all, LTE was awesome too.

That’s been the reality for a lot of people. The promise of 5G has definitely been fulfilled, but it hasn’t led to a real change in our behavior. Before LTE, we rarely streamed video on our phones. Before 3G we rarely looked at whole web pages. Web pages for phones were designed using something called Wireless Access Protocol, or WAP, a term which apparently means something different now than it did then.

Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is but it is gonna be great

We haven’t yet found that something that will set 5G apart from 4G/LTE. In some applications, the speed increase isn’t that noticeable, and you really need to be in a fairly densely populated area to get mindblowing speeds. But, 5G has never been about raw speed. It’s more about latency.

Latency, as I’ve mentioned before, is the time between when you ask for something to happen and when it does. Like the time after you tap on the screen and before the next page loads. If you have kids and you’ve ever driven anywhere with them, you understand latency.

5G was designed from the ground up for low latency. It’s designed to make the whole experience feel faster whether or not it is faster. And that’s the thing that will make 5G shine.

At one time we thought maybe 5G would be used for massive self-driving car networks. So far that hasn’t come to pass. It could also be used for ultra-precise location finding in stores. This is a great idea but some folks are just now returning to stores.

I don’t know what that “killer app” is going to be yet, but the one thing I know is that there will be one.

Here’s what I’d really like to see

I think that augmented reality is a really cool technology. The idea is that you look at your phone’s screen, and it acts like a window. The camera picks up what’s ahead, and superimposes something else on it. The technology is really in its infancy now. It requires a lot of loading and prepping and it isn’t good for much other than chasing Pokemon on city streets.

But imagine if augmented reality were built into your car. You could get information on store hours by pulling up to the store. If you were out hiking, you could just whip out your phone and instantly know if that plant was poison ivy, or just regular ivy. It could be used for medicine, for training, for learning, all sorts of stuff. But it would have to be fast and it would have to “just work.”

That’s where 5G could really shine. 5G could enable a whole universe of information around us quickly and easily. I think it could be the killer app.

That is, until someone starts putting ads in it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.