It seems that the first time I really talked about 5G was this article from 2015. At the time I said,
It’s nothing. At least not today.
And at the time, I was right. In 2015 we were just a few years away from the initial buildout of LTE in the United States. It seemed almost silly to talk about another wireless standard. We were still pretty amazed that we could get 25Mbps down from our phones under ideal circumstances. Who would need more?
The early bets on 5G
Before we had any idea what 5G would be, most folks thought it would be a replacement for home internet, not a mobile technology. At that time we thought that all 5G service would be up in the millimeter wave band and that would make it hard to create energy-efficient devices.
That ended up not being true. There were some early experiments into delivering 5G to homes but they rapidly faded. At the same time, the FCC opened up the 600MHz band for 5G meaning that phones could use 5G technology with much less power.
So that initial dream of wireless internet to the home seems to have been forgotten for the moment. I think that’s a shame because it would have been nice to have more than one choice for homeowners. It’s still possible that 5G will grow to encompass home users as well as mobile, but there are challenges. In order to do that, you would need a 5G tower for every few homes. That’s a lot of infrastructure.
In an alternate universe, we might have been thinking of 2020 as “the year of 5G.” Of course we all know that there have been bigger stories this year. But 5G has been a big story as well. All the major carriers now have some degree of nationwide 5G service. AT&T in particular has been taking a two-pronged approach, with their millimeter wave 5G covering portions of major cities while their 600MHz 5G covers other areas. You finally have a choice of several Android phones as well as several models of iPhone, all with 5G. Now of course we would all like to be able to go somewhere to use our phones. One thing at a time I suppose.
What will we be talking about in 5 years?
Common sense would tell you that there has to be some limit to the speeds we’ll see from mobile phones. At the very least there has to be some limit to what we need. Right now, home internet advertises speeds of 100-500Mbps, but realistically the average home with 3-4 people doesn’t need more than 50Mbps even if everyone is streaming at the same time. Internet service providers count on this because they know that they couldn’t really serve an entire neighborhood with 500Mbps at the same time.
I think the same thing will be true of mobile. 5G promises speeds of 1,000Mbps but there isn’t a reason that you would actually use that amount of speed with today’s mobile phones. There’s always the possibility that we’ll see some new use of mobile data that we can’t understand right now, but it’s hard to know what that is.
I forecast that the next generation, whether it’s called 6G or something else, will focus less on raw speed and more on metrics like latency. Latency is the measure of how soon you get data after you ask for it. 6G and other technologies may also support new ways of getting data more effectively from point to point, and addressing the growing gap between the amount of data you want to download and the amount of data you want to upload. Older technologies like AWS attempted to do this with some success already.
I can guarantee one thing, though, and it’s that whatever the latest tech is in 2025, you’ll find it when you shop the great selection at Solid Signal!