Tom Lohr is a futurist and hates cleaning. He is still waiting for his flying car.
The Future Is Now
At least according to wireless carriers. For years, cell phone service providers have touted that our lives will be transformed when the fifth generation of wireless service becomes available. Geeks have been watering at the mouth in anticipation of the head-spinning speed in data transfer.
The road to 5G has been a long one. The main issue has been bandwidth. Bandwidth is the radio wave frequency spectrum that wireless services are allowed to transmit/broadcast on. When the internet and cell phones were relatively new, bandwidth seemed endless. Now, with more wireless devices than people on the planet, that band of electromagnetic energy has become clogged. If you have ever been to a large event, say a stadium filled with fans, you undoubtedly noticed that your ability to look at the web on your phone was suddenly a painfully slow experience. All of those people around you, who are also using their wireless device, were clogging the narrow bandwidth to the nearest towers.
What Took So Long?
After years of study, haggling and lobbying, the Federal Communications Commission gave the go-ahead to significantly increase the available bandwidth for wireless transmissions. Previously, smartphones operated in the microwave frequency. The new chunk of available bandwidth moves up in frequency, allowing 5G service to operate in the millimeter range. Millimeter communication has a lot of upside, but some drawbacks as well. More on that later.
So when will 5G service be available? Now...if you are lucky enough to live in one of the selected cities that it has been rolled out in; and that is not many. Not that it matters anyway, there are very few 5G capable smart devices on the market at present. The chosen cities went live with 5G in late 2018, and there is a lot of hubris about it being available to much of the United States by the time 2020 rolls around.
5G and You
With 5G being the subject of water-cooler conversations across the nation, you have to be asking yourself: what will 5G do for me and how will it affect my life? If you want data speeds and latency rates and other deep technical info, there are a lot of tech blogs that will help you understand the finer points of 5G service. But of the average person in the United States, here is what you can expect:
It Will Be Mostly for the Affluent
At least in the beginning anyway. There will be some financial barriers for many to relish 5G service. Most carriers are going to charge extra if you want the hyper-fast service that 5G promises. That promise is all over the chart as far as how much of an improvement it will be, but it will be a serious and noticeable improvement. Once you see someone use it, you will want it. But how big of a hit it will be on already pricey phone plans is unknown, but expect it to be an amount that will make you wonder if you really need 5G.
You Will Need a New Phone
This will be where the real financial segregation will occur. Your phone you just bought last year? There is a 99% chance it is not 5G compatible. As you already know, a decent smartphone is not cheap, and new 5G models are expected to be several hundred dollars on top of what the same 4G model would cost. That is serious money. Even if you do have the expendable cash, getting one will be difficult at first. The first series of 5G-enabled phones have come out but they are still very expensive and in short supply.
You May Have Reception Issues
Here is where using millimeter wavelengths are an issue. Because 5G operates at a higher frequency, it has a shorter transmission range. In the early stages, once you travel outside of a metropolitan area you will likely lose 5G capability until carriers fully upgrade their infrastructure. It also has a harder time penetrating walls and can be affected by moisture in the air. You may experience interrupted service during heavy rainfall.
Did I ever tell you about the wedding I attended where two antennas got married? No? Well, the wedding wasn't much to talk about, but the reception was great.
Since 5G will have a shorter range, the system will need more antennas to provide coverage. You will see them springing up on lamp posts and just about everything else that juts up into the sky. They will be smaller than current antennas, and can be sized according to need. Expect to see a flurry of utility activity during the next few years.
High Definition Streaming Will Be Smoother
On any given evening, the streaming of Netflix eats up a third or more of available bandwidth. Not only will streaming be seamless and without stutter on your phone, your home big screen experience will be more enjoyable. The extra bandwidth freed up by the FCC will really unclog the streaming pipe.
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Gaming Will Be Less Frustrating
If you play online video games, you know what a hassle a slow network can be. Unless you are paying your carrier for their fastest service, you get lag, dropouts and other performance degrading issues that make video gaming frustrating. Gamers are undoubtedly some of 5G's biggest fans.
Buffering Will Be a Thing of the Past
Do you hate the spinning arrow or other indication your wireless device displays while it is loading the website or video you have requested? The speeds offered by 5G will make buffering a historical relic. Think about what you can do with the free time that buffer-less web surfing will add up to each day. You could do something useful; like trim your nails.
Your Kids Will Harass You
If you have tweens or teens, they are always on top of the latest tech. Especially when it comes to their cell phone. Not only will they be drooling over the enhanced performance 5G offers, but will experience peer pressure to have a 5G device. Remember when it used to just be sneakers that made kids envious? They will unrelentingly bug you for a 5G phone.
In Your Future
The data transfer that 5G affords will offer some pretty interesting upgrades to everyday life after it becomes well established. Things you have heard and read about that sounded like something out of a science fiction novel will become reality. But if you are waiting on your flying car; you will still be waiting.
Phone displays in 3D are already available, but you probably do not know anyone that has one. Basically, it makes your phone screen look like one of those cheap plastic 3D pictures that have been around since the 70s. The rise of 5G will make 3D really come to life, with holograms not far behind.
If you have tested out some of those virtual reality goggles that make you seem like you are somewhere else, you have likely been impressed. The sensation of being somewhere you are not is very realistic. After 5G gets in the VR arena, those experiences will be in 4K (and whatever succeeds 4K) and blow you away. Think of the money you could save by taking a VR vacation and never leave your living room.
Cars that can drive themselves are already on the road. They are not full proof and have been involved in accidents. Currently, if an automated vehicle is in use, it still has to have a driver behind the wheel that has the ability to take control. Experts in the driverless vehicle industry claim 5G is what will really make automated vehicles a reality for mainstream America. Imagine traveling to grandma's for Thanksgiving, leaving the night before and sleeping in the reclined passenger seat as your vehicle navigates to granny's house all by itself. You arrive fresh rather than worn out from a long drive.
It (Might) Lower the Cost of Goods
A large majority of our goods are transported by truck. Like me, you probably hold the tractor-trailer traffic in disdain. Those large trucks really know how to cause backups on the interstate. What you might not know is the drivers of those trucks are limited by law how much they can drive per day. While it causes more trucks to be on the road, not having fatigued truck drivers on the highway is worth the hassle.
A driverless truck can operate 24/7. It does not need rest, food, potty breaks or does it need to jabber away on a CB radio. With significantly fewer trucks out of service while the drivers rest, the volume of truck traffic on the highways would be noticeably reduced. Without having to pay for truck drivers, the cost of transportation of goods should go down, and hopefully those savings would be passed on to consumers. If you are worried about automation taking jobs from humans; don't. There is already a severe truck driver shortage and the average age of truckers is getting to the point that many of them will be retiring soon. If planned correctly, transitioning to driverless trucks will not affect trucker employment.
Should You Be an Early Adopter?
With all of the promises that 5G has made, many will be standing in lines like sheep to get their hands on this life-changing technology; and shelling out serious cash for the bragging rights. Buying a 5G phone as soon as they are available would be like being one of the first people that bought a color TV. Sure, it could display color broadcasts, but early on the majority of films and TV shows were in black and white.
The same is true for 5G devices. Should you get one? Absolutely. But not until probably 2021 at the earliest. That allows for bugs to be worked out of the network, device competition to bring down prices, and for 5G applications to mature. Then, ask yourself if you really need the faster downloads or quicker jumps to different websites. The answer is, unless you are a gamer or serious streamer, your 4G device will meet your needs just fine. You can save the cash and when they finally make all networks unable to interact with 4G devices, you can buy an older model device and experience the wonders of 5G, at a price the average person can afford.
Excited About 5G?
© 2019 Tom Lohr
Liz Westwood from UK on April 17, 2019:
This is really helpful at explaining 5G. I tend to wait to adopt new technogy until all the glitches have been ironed out and prices drop. How long before we have 6G?