What is 5G?

It’s nothing. At least not today.

It seems like all the hype about mobile internet speeds has died down a little bit. Back when we all talked about speeds of 256kbps over a mobile connection and thought that was pretty fast, we dreamed of a day that our phones would be as fast in downloading as our computers. It turns out that day may never come, since home internet speeds keep heading up up up even faster than mobile ones. But let’s be honest, since pretty much every phone out there today has LTE built-in, there’s not a lot of need for more speed. Not really.

I say that because the average LTE connection, if it’s strong enough, can get speeds of up to 50Mbps, which is more than enough to stream a movie. Even the sustained top speed for LTE, which is usually quoted as 12Mbps, is fast enough for pretty much anything you would do on a phone. The problem isn’t the technology, it’s the coverage. Some areas just don’t have enough LTE towers meaning that the same phone won’t get speeds that are as good. We don’t need faster phones, we need more towers.

People talk about 5G, which at least from the name would seem to be the next thing in cellular internet, but there’s no real understanding of what it is. For now, it’s not expected to be a technology built into phones, because the power requirements of a 300Mbps connection can be pretty steep. Of course they said that about LTE at first, too. I remember a friend with one of the first LTE phones, and he never used the capability because it could drain the battery in under 30 minutes.

It’s most likely that the next generation of wireless internet won’t be for mobile devices at all. Putting up cell towers is the fastest way to get internet to homes, too, and you can bet the next big push in wireless will be to your home router, not to your cell phone. Today, most people can get home internet service from one or two companies, but expect a big change there. Companies like AT&T and DISH want to provide you with internet service even if they haven’t got a drop of copper wiring underground. They’re working with the next generation of network technology to send 500Mbps internet over the air to an antenna or dish on your roof. This is the way that they’ll penetrate into other markets. It’s a great idea because honestly it’s bound to spur some competition, especially in areas that have had next to no choice in the past.

Oh, I’m sure there will eventually be speeds like that on mobile devices, but for now we really don’t care. As a matter of fact, I have a feeling that you’re probably just fine with your phone’s speed now and don’t really want to get into another speed war for a while.

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.