Will you need a new cell booster for 5G service?

That depends on whether or not 5G is a real thing. If you’re thinking of buying a cellular booster in 2016, you’re probably worried about futureproofing. It seems like the cell world has been pretty quiet in the last year and chances are, you’re thinking it’s about to explode in some new way that makes all your stuff obsolete. After all that’s what usually happens when there’s a quiet period like that.

There’s going to be a new standard in cellular communications. That’s absolutely going to happen. The good news is that it’s not going to happen very soon. Believe it or not, we’re still not completely up to the “4G” standard as it was originally intended. Since there’s no global regulatory agency that forces people to use the right words, cell companies in the US have always used “4G” more as a sales term than as an engineering term.

When people started talking about “LTE” a few years back, that kind of grounded things a little — after all LTE is a real technology that can require whole new hardware and it’s a little hard to say you are offering LTE to your customers if you’re not. But even LTE is a pretty broad thing and we’re nowhere near the draft LTE-Advanced specs that were proposed several years ago.

Don’t get me wrong — obviously someone’s going to start throwing around the “5G” moniker sometime in the next 12-18 months. During 2015, all the major carriers really concentrated on beefing up capacity and improving LTE rather than rolling out something totally new. That’s good for consumers and it’s good for engineers, since the LTE standard is designed to make it easy to improve speeds without adding a lot of new hardware. It’s not terribly good for marketing folks and that’s where you’re going to see the big changes this year.

See, the cell phone market in the US is pretty mature. What I’m trying to say is that there isn’t this really big chunk of people who are getting cell phones for the first time. For every youngster who gets his first phone, there’s someone who falls off the rolls because they pass on or don’t have money or whatever. That means the only way that any cell carrier is going to grow is by stealing customers from other cell carriers. When you have a situation like that, marketing managers get antsy and that generally means they find creative ways to stretch the truth.

So, expect someone to say “5G” a lot in 2016. What will they mean? It’s anyone’s guess. The good news, though, and the whole reason you read this article, is that the FCC is not expected to allocate new cellular frequencies for use this year. That’s coming, probably in ’17, but even so you’ll be safe until probably mid-’18 considering the time it takes to get something built and operational. That means, even if the marketing folks start calling it “5G” it probably isn’t, and your current cell booster is going to work as well as it already does. Any new booster you buy today is probably also going to work as well in two years as it does today, and probably will work just fine in five years.

Because of government approvals, it takes a long time for things to change in the cell phone business. That’s a good thing, even though it seems like it’s bad for innovation. Without a little bit of supervision, cell carriers could choose to make your phone obsolete pretty much any time they wanted. In fact, the US is pretty lenient with cell phone regulation; it’s one of the few countries where you can’t take your phone from carrier to carrier and where carriers are allowed to “lock” phones so that they can’t be used on any other carrier. Then again, it’s also one of the few countries where cell phone companies routinely give away free phones, so there’s obviously some good to offset the bad.

By way of paying the bills: If you happen to be in the market for a cellular booster, I would appreciate if you’d check out our corporate parent, Solid Signal – Signal Solutions including HDTV Antennas, DIRECTV and DISH Network satellite equipment and home entertainment supplies and accessories. They keep the lights on here and it’s nice to give back once in 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 7,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.