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What's the status on 5G?

What's the status on 5G?

After Qualcomm announced the creation of a 5G chip in 2017, the tech world has been buzzing ever since. But what’s going on with 5G? How long before the average American consumer can expect to use it? 

Why 5G is Important

5G promises big improvements over our current 4G/LTE networks. Not only will 5G eventually give us much faster, reliable wireless access, but it will also support much greater device density. 

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How much faster? 5G will bump us from 100 Mbps download speeds to 10 Gbps and beyond. But beyond improved consumer convenience, 5G will enable a sea change of connectivity that will affect most (if not all) industries. The upgraded speed, capacity, and latency of connections will have far-reaching implications for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), autonomous vehicles, healthcare, agriculture—you name it. 

But your slow download speeds aren’t going anywhere quite yet. We’re still very much in the early phases of 5G. One of the main problems is that current 4G devices don’t support 5G, so consumers and industry players need a lot of new hardware in order to access 5G. Although 5G has technically already been launched in the US, early adopters have been unimpressed. 

Since the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G was released, some people have reported GIGABIT download speeds! But only if they’re within line of sight of a 5G node, which is not that often due to current 5G infrastructure—another huge roadblock to overcome.

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Current Roadblocks to 5G

Like Wi-Fi 6, 5G has not had an easy path to implementation—and still faces major hurdles. Perhaps most notably is the fact that President Trump is urging the world to reject China-based Huawei’s infrastructure hardware due to security concerns. Huawei’s infrastructure is generally considered both cheaper and superior to providers like Ericsson or Nokia, so this has certainly caused tensions around the global rollout of 5G. 

Another question people have raised is the structural impacts 5G might cause. While there doesn’t seem to be evidence that radiation from 5G is dangerous to humans, enough people have raised questions about the health implications of this new network to slow down the rollout in some countries. Notably Belgium recently put a temporary stop to 5G rollouts because antennas haven’t met preexisting radiation protection guidelines.

In another interesting development, the US Navy has indicated that 5G operating in the 24GHz spectrum could interfere with weather satellites and remote sensors that measure water vapor. Could 5G networks hinder our ability to get accurate weather forecasts? The answer is not clear, though it is concerning.

Race to the Rollout

As with most tech, being first-to-market is highly desirable. This race is usually between manufacturers. But in the case of 5G, the race is between countries

So who was first to launch 5G? It depends on who you ask. If you ask South Korea, they will proudly declare that they launched the very first 5G network in April 2019. Meanwhile, Americans claim that Verizon was the first when it launched its 5G network later on the same day, suggesting that South Koreans only ran a limited launch to only a handful of people.

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Regardless of who was first, there are now multiple active (though highly limited) 5G networks in operation around the world. For a complete picture of where these are, and what the future plans for each country are, take a look at this article on Lifewire: 5G Availability Around the World.

So When Can We Get 5G?

Currently, the world is waiting for the requisite network infrastructure to be put in place—which will take months in some cities and years for pretty much everybody else. For mass consumer access, the public will still need to purchase end-points, the physical hardware, to access 5G networks. Though Samsung has a 5G model, but it costs a steep $1,400. Apple is not rushing into 5G, and their chips won’t support it until 2020. A few other makers have released their phones too—for a price. 

Here’s a comprehensive list of 5G phones available now.

And even in the Verizon examples above, where users are already seeing once-unthinkable internet speeds, the quality of the connection varies from location to location because 5G cell tower reach is notably limited to only one square mile. 

Meanwhile, in some cases, the problem is actually inverted: the end-points might arrive before the infrastructure goes live. Outcomes are yet to be decided in many countries as telecom giants hold highly expensive 5G network spectrum block auctions. These bidding wars for may actually wear away available financing for building out the actual infrastructure that will get 5G access to end-users in places like Germany. But even if 5G is slow to appear, it will eventually be our new status quo.

2020 looks like the year when more networks will go live and more 5G devices will hit the market. By 2025, however, the norm will be 5G: downloading an entire Ultra HD movie to your personal device within a minute or two. 

As for industrial applications, the sky’s the limit.

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Hub Firms

HubFirms is one of the world’s largest online publications that delivers an international perspective on the latest news about Internet technology, business and culture.

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