Yes… and no. We’re starting to talk a lot about 5G here at The Solid Signal Blog, because it’s a very exciting prospect. We’re talking about data speeds up to 100 megabit, more capacity, and a more robust signal that should do a better job of traveling through buildings. That sounds like a recipe for disaster for makers of cellular signal boosters, who make money when people have bad cell service. If everyone gets fast internet and clear voice calls, the need for a booster is gone and the companies that make them probably are too.
Except it’s a little more complex than that. Let’s unpack.
First of all this is still a few years off.
5G standards aren’t finalized, and what we’re seeing today is just the very early phase in testing and licensing. In fact, 5G takes a seat behind technologies like 600MHz LTE that are going to roll out first. If I had to guess, we’ll really be deep into 5G in about, maybe, 2021 or 2022. So this should in no way stop you from buying a cellular signal booster today, any more than you should go without a cell phone because they will have different capabilities in four years.
No one really knows how it’s going to pan out.
At the moment, AT&T is focused on 5G solutions that will replace home internet. That makes sense because AT&T’s wires only cover a fraction of the homes in the USA, while their satellite service covers it all. So it makes sense that they would be developing a service they could offer that would let everyone in the country use AT&T internet. If you are somewhere with AT&T internet, you’ll likely connect to the roof-mounted 5G antenna via Wi-Fi, bypassing the need for a booster.
On the other hand, other carriers are looking at 5G as a natural evolution for cell phones, and it’s possible that you’ll see 5G cell service at lower broadcast frequencies, designed for reception by cell phones. In this case it’s possible that you’ll see the same problems with cell phones that you see now — signals that can’t penetrate through buildings. If that’s how this whole thing pans out, you’ll still need a cell booster in the future if you need one now.
Even if 5G comes and gives us everything we want, old phones won’t go away yet.
When LTE was originally developed, it was thought of as an out-and-out replacement for the GSM and CDMA cellular systems used by major carriers. Voice traffic would eventually transfer over to LTE and those old systems would be retired. That may still happen but it hasn’t happened yet. Old standards take a long time to go away. A good rule of thumb is that AT&T moved from the TDMA standard to the GSM standard around 2004, but it was another five years before they started turning off their old towers. And keep in mind there were a lot fewer phones in service then. So if LTE does truly replace the older technologies, and 5G replaces LTE, we’re talking about maybe 10 years that those older technologies could be in place and during that time, you could need a cell booster.
Folks, the bottom line here is that cell boosters are here today. In the future things could change but be honest with yourself, you don’t buy a piece of consumer electronics thinking you’re going to get ten or more years out of it. If you get five you generally feel pretty good about that, and let me tell you … if you need a cell booster today, you’re probably going to need one in five years. There really isn’t more to it than that.