It’s the question that’s on all our minds, right? We hear all the time about the miraculous power of 5G, the next generation of cellular data service. 5G sounds miraculous to be sure, but the real question is… when?
First, what is 5G?
5G is more than a marketing term. It’s a set of new technologies that are designed to make data transfers better and faster than ever.
5G uses new compression techniques, new filtering techniques, and the latest technologies to get the absolute most out of your cell phone. The 5G service that’s starting to roll out in test cities is using frequencies that recently got opened up thanks to the FCC’s repack.
For the last several years, the FCC has been preparing for new cell data services. They have given incentives to broadcasters to move their stations “down the spectrum” so that channels 37-51 can be completely cleared out. These channels will be used for 5G cellular.
However, the real excitement with 5G has to do with “millimeter wave” frequencies. For the first time, cell phones will have the ability to use frequencies over 26GHz. There’s a lot of open space up there and that opens up the possibility of a lot of data transfers.
Millimeter-wave 5G is important because those fast 5G transfers need a lot of “space” to operate. You couldn’t have 10,000 people downloading at 500Mbps using just the frequencies that are available now. And that’s the goal… speeds that are 5-10 times faster than the home internet you have today.
5G rollout plans
The first phase of 5G rollout will probably take place this year and into next year. It’s going to depend on when those frequencies used by TV stations are clear. It’s also going to depend on when phones come out that can use the technology. We’ve heard that the iPhone that launches in 2020 will have some 5G features and by then most high-end Galaxy phones probably will too.
However, it’s going to take several more years to get millimeter-wave 5G into phones. The problem right now is power consumption. No one wants to carry a car battery around with them to power their phones. I’m not saying things are that dire, but for sure 5G uses a lot more power. As you try to send a signal using higher and higher frequencies, it always takes more power. Someone will find ways for chips to be more efficient, but it will take time.
Another worry is infrastructure. Millimeter-wave 5G is going to take a lot more towers. How many more? Some say you’ll need a tower every 100 feet. That’s probably not true, but it could be that you need one every 1,000 feet even in rural areas. That’s about 5 times more towers than are installed today. It’s going to take time to make that happen.
I honestly think that you won’t see full implementation of 5G until 2023 at this point. I know that’s a pretty depressing prediction but there’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of money to be spent. You’ll see some 5G rollouts happening this year and next year and your cell data speeds will definitely go up. AT&T does have a 5G solution for a very small number of people. It involves a hotspot that provides Wi-Fi to nearby devices. AT&T is outfitting its towers with new technology which they’re calling “5G Evolution.” It’s not true 5G, and I know that sounds misleading. Personally I don’t care what they call it… in my area my speeds went from about 30Mbps to 95Mbps. That’s plenty fast for my phone right now. True 5G will be faster, but that’s still incredibly awesome. They could call it Meryl Streep if they wanted to, it’s still blazing fast.