What Exactly Is 5G? Everything You Need to Know in 2021

While there was so much that went on in the world last year (as well as this year so far), we should not forget that there are constant technological developments that allow us to better communicate and interact with each other. Last year, 4G mobile technology was a crucial part of that, and we saw the expansion of that generation into nearly every aspect of our lives.

Yet even as the current technology expands and finds new uses, we are starting to think about what is next and what we might be able to do. If you were lucky and lived in one of the right areas, you might have noticed 5G technology enabled on your devices. While a small percentage of the population last year had access, this year will be different, with a more rollout and likely advertisements as seen with the beginning of 4G usage.

Yet while you might hear a bunch of buzzwords and hear about functionalities you will never use, you may have questions about 5G and how it might affect your life. If this is such a significant development, you need to know what is going on and why.

Therefore, without further wait, here is everything you need to know about 5G, its potential uses, and how it relates to you:

How to Define 5G

In itself, 5G does not stand for much. It merely notes that this is the fifth generation of technology, specifically the fifth generation of wireless networking standards. To you, it is merely faster cellular data and better support for mobile devices across the board. To professionals in the field, it could mean the next great leap forward in cellular technology, allowing for innovation and ways of thinking about communication.

For the sake of simplicity and comparison, let us go into what each previous generation was able to achieve:

  • 1G - developed in the 1980s, were able to provide analog voice support.
  • 2G - first developed in the early 1990s, could allow for digital voice support.
  • 3G - which you might remember first coming on the scene in the early 2000s, first brought the concept of cellular data to our phones, albeit the rates were slow.
  • 4G - developed over the 2010s, allowed for the broadband data you are likely used to now. People could do anything from download larger files to stream video with little interruption.

So, what will 5G be able to do? In short, it is effectively a relative increase in speed and accessibility, complete with the infrastructure to support a more widely used network. While 4G allowed for things such as quick downloads of entire movies, with 5G, which is reported to be 10-100 times faster (more on that later), you can expect to download even the biggest files in seconds, as long as your data plan holds.

However, note that different companies might use slightly different technologies and definitions, so 5G is not a uniform term. What 5G means to one cell service provider may not be what it means to another. You, however, should not have to worry too much about the minor differences here.

How Fast Is 5G?

Yet a change in number from 4G to 5G is meaningless and potentially overpriced without context, which begs the question you might be here for: how fast is 5G, and what are its improvements over previous generations?

  • Download speeds are vastly improved over previous generations. What would take hours before now will take minutes, and minutes will turn into seconds. Whatever would have happened in seconds now happens in the blink of an eye (or even less).
  • Exactly how fast? Reports will vary, and it depends on what baselines you are following. Some will say it is ten times faster than usual 4G rates, others 100, and others are somewhere in-between. Regardless, there is a massive increase.
  • There are more benefits than just download speed. Latency will vastly decrease, which will allow for better video calling and gaming (more active online mobile gaming might not be possible with 5G technology).
  • With the rollout of 5G infrastructure, we will also find more support for the common functions we are used to. Slowdowns will be far less frequent, and there is good reason to believe that data caps will be raised significantly, if not removed entirely for the sake of competition.
  • Traffic capacity will increase heavily, up to orders of magnitude more than previous capabilities. This means data will be easier to come by, and people will be able to do more with said data. Theoretical waiting lines for data will be far less likely.

It is better able to use spectrum bands than previous generations.

Some of these you might notice immediately, while others will be seen on the end of developers and service administrators. However, you will fail to see the 5G network's complete benefits after a certain point. If a video loads instantly for you already, then you might not notice the difference at first. However, if you want to stream video at higher resolutions (which newer devices will allow), you will be happier you have your 5G connection.

How Will It Work?

We could try to explain to a general audience the deep nuances of 5G, some of which are not even available to the general public due to their being kept secret (for fear of theft). Yet to put it simply, data will be broadcast in a different way than previous generations. Much like all things that are broadcast, the data transmits over different frequencies or bands. The bands used by earlier generations are limited in how fast they can transmit data, but the bands of 5G do not have those limitations.

You should know that 5G will generally work on higher frequency ranges than usual (it is for this reason, you might hear 5G and talk of millimeter waves). This allows for the faster transmission of data. If you are not interested in the deep science of it all, that is all you need to know.

There is a bit of a drawback to this, though, which is making rollout more difficult. Millimeter waves simply do not have the range of most previous technologies. This requires more specialized equipment placed in more locations to reach the same coverage level as previous generations. While this might not be much of an issue in New York, for example (the investment is well worth it), rural Wyoming might have a tougher time of things. It may have to wait a while to get support if they get it at all any time soon.

Therefore, in the rollout of 5G, we might see a mix of frequencies, depending on what is most appropriate for the area.

Common 5G Versus Advanced 5G

Something fundamental to note as a consumer is that there are effectively two "5G" things. There is the millimeter wave technology (or perhaps other things under similar names) and extreme upgrade that we have been talking about throughout the article. There is also some of what companies are advertising as "5G". The second is a substantial upgrade for most users, with download speed improvements (and perhaps a few other benefits), but it is still just an incremental improvement.

As a consumer, note what service improvements you are receiving and that you are not misled by false promises along fifth-generation cellular data technology lines. That being said, if you have access to the upgrade, do not be concerned and take it (there will probably be little choice in the matter). You will appreciate the boost before the main 5G benefits come along.

What Are the Potential Benefits?

All of this sounds theoretically interesting, and it is, but why should you ever spend money or get emotionally invested in something that is theoretically interesting if it does not benefit your household? What is there to get excited about? You could let universities and tech companies play with it for a few more years and leave it at that. However, the average person will benefit from the following:

  • Communications will become more reliable, with a more extensive range of what is possible.
  • People will be able to stream and send video from additional places.
  • A wider range of technologies that require more advanced communication networks and relays, such as smart cars and improved record-keeping, as mentioned before.
  • Downloads will be vastly improved, and data will likely be more freely available.

In truth, most of the benefits of 5G will not all come at once overnight. Instead, you might see a new feature or amazing app here or there and a few improvements to your download speed or latency. There may be a day where you say, "Hey, I have 5G now", be impressed a bit, and then move on. Yet this time, a few years from now, you may look back and notice all the improvements.

Potential Uses for 5G

With all the hype surrounding 5G technology, what specific uses might we see in the coming years? At the very least, what aspects of life might be improved?

  • As mentioned, we will likely see rollouts of smart city technology that at least in part uses 5G to improve its efforts. If not in the United States, then in other places around the world. This could mean streetlights that are more efficient alongside better traffic flow systems, improved ways of measuring air and water quality, and more. While there are worries about the potential surveillance possibilities of smart city technology, there are clear benefits.
  • Products and devices requiring a constant and robust connection can receive better support, such as smart-cars and smart-glasses (should they ever come back into vogue).
  • Industrial applications can also be massive. In some areas, drones will be able to be more reliably used, factories will be able to expand automation, and farmers will be able to control equipment remotely via a 5G connection.
  • Similarly, people or businesses getting deliveries will get real-time data on their packages and information on the supply chain, improving efficiencies across the board.
  • Improved workplace communications where people are increasingly able to work remotely from just about anywhere in the world. In an increasingly global economy, this will become vital.
  • Easier interfacing with smart home devices no matter the location of the user. This can allow for better energy usage, security, and more.
  • Social media will (for better or worse) find new ways to use 5G connections, allowing for more data sharing from more places.

This is only a short and basic list of what could potentially be done with 5G. We are sure to see additional content on the subject soon, alongside showcases and demos across the world. While 5G certainly exists and is in the world, we have only scratched the surface of it.

Are There Any Health Risks?

One of the more concerning ideas that one can find in online circles and conspiracy forums is that 5G technology poses a health risk to people who use it or even the global population at large. Some even say that 5G is related to the Coronavirus.

There is no reason to believe this is the case. While there might be some concerns about the technology that one might have about all technology, such as whether 5G radiation might have adverse effects, we have had concerns about cellular technology since its inception. There have been no signs of health risks. Nonetheless, research is happening to that end, and we will know if there is any problem.

The more optimistic could instead hope that improved data management and connections will allow people and doctors to monitor public and personal health better. This would allow for more rapid responses to problems and a better understanding of how our own bodies work. If we have health-related smartwatches now, what will we have in a few years with better connectivity?

Could It Supplant Normal Internet Services?

Internet access can be expensive, especially in some parts of the world, or if you are uninterested in bundles with other telecommunications services. People will regularly spend more than $1000 a year on quality internet, which might lead us to wonder when we might be able to cut even that cord in favor of wireless technology (such as 5G).

While 5G technology and connections could undoubtedly make a dent in the number of people that can live off of just a data plan (many do already), that does not mean we won't need broadband connections in our everyday lives. Many plans will still have a cap of some sort, and the fastest ethernet connections will always be best. Combine that with the need for stable regular internet not tied to our smartphones, and we will see modems and routers in our homes for years to come.

What Can You Expect from Rollout?

The ultimate goal for 5G technology is naturally to make sure it is as widely available as possible, at least in terms of the number of people. However, doing so all at once or immediately is simply impossible. A limited workforce can set things up, and testing must be done to ensure better setups in the future. Unfortunately, there may be areas that are simply not a good investment for companies to set up 5G to the limit of its capabilities.

In terms of rollout, quite a bit has already occurred, possibly more by the time you read this. First, you can expect rollouts in major population centers, perhaps some test cities. Not only will the infrastructure generally be easier to set up, but companies will be able to make more money from the process. After this, expect expansion, fine-tuning, and more setups across the world.

You will also likely hear about it from your mobile carrier, possibly as a way to get you to keep their services. Alternatively, if, like many of us, you have managed to avoid such advertising, you might just notice a "5G" icon on your phone occasionally when it comes into range.

If you are even more curious, there are maps and tools to help you track where 5G is available.

Other FAQs About 5G

There is a whole lot to discuss around 5G, so here are answers to some common questions we found:

What Devices Will Be Able to Use 5G?

Theoretically, any device in which you could input a receiver would be able to use 5G, much like we have many devices that can use 4G. If it might use an internet connection, you could probably connect it to 5G (although it might not make any sense to do it when a simple WiFi connection would do).

In practice, manufacturers have to devise how their devices will connect to the outside world. You might just have a Bluetooth connection to your phone, which will use 5G. Some special devices might get a direct connection. It may depend on the service provider.

Looking back to the potential benefits section, there are quite a few devices listed. Anything related to smart city and smart car technology may be able to use 5G technology. We can also expect product manufacturers to cover their bases and think ahead in terms of compatibility.

Overall, any type of device that can use 4G will likely be able to use 5G in the future, although you may need to buy a new device to do so.

Which Companies Provide 5G Access?

We will not list every company that happens to provide 5G services, especially since doing so on a worldwide scale would take far too long, and the list would quickly be out of date. However, you can be confident that every major player in the mobile carrier market is working on it, if only because avoiding it is an inevitable path towards obsolescence. Whether you have AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint (among others), you will find 5G service in the future, and you will know about it.

What might be more interesting is determining which companies will be providing 5G access in your area first. Not everything will be uniform, and you may need to do several searches to determine precisely how you can get service. It might be frustrating, and you probably will not want to change providers over it just yet, but it can be a deciding factor for you if your contract is about to expire. It might not hurt to contact your provider and let them know you want 5G access as soon as possible, or you might be moving to another company that can get you what you want.

The other side of the equation is what devices allow for 5G access and what companies can make them? Naturally, every company that makes a smartphone will be working on them, as well as providing greater network support. It is only in their self-interest to do so.

Should I Have Any Concerns?

As mentioned earlier, there have been few problems related to 5G itself, and there is no reason to believe 5G technology is unsafe. Of course, it is being researched, but so far, scientists have found no harmful effects.

Yet on a related note to 5G, you should also be wary of misinformation related to the technology. Like most new and innovative developments, some people want to mislead the public about 5G, often for political ends. This could lead to you being scammed out of money (perhaps for products to "protect you" or your home) or made to worry or stress for no reason, which can have adverse effects.

If it is studied by scientists plus reviewed by reputable sources and found to be safe, you should not be concerned. Yet, there will likely be many false claims that "science" says 5G is dangerous. There are other genuine threats from other technologies to be concerned about, including psychological issues such as technology dependence resulting from network proliferation.

What Comes Next?

While proper discussions about 6G technology is far off and nearly absurd, rest assured they are already occurring in long-term plans and the best hopes and desires of telecommunications companies (and any company that would benefit from the technology). Additionally, we will likely see improvements in 5G technology. The improvements to the infrastructure alone and how devices use it will help us continue developing our connections.

After millimeter wave technology and everything related is perfected, it will be interesting to see what comes next. Will we continue along the same lines, or will a new method of cellular data transmission come in? How will we subvert the current limits we have and continue to improve our lives? Only time, the needs of users, and future technological developments will be able to tell.

Conclusion

There is so much that we will be able to do with 5G technology, and there is so much more to explore on the subject. We hope that this article has allowed you to clear up any questions or misconceptions you had about the technology, and we similarly hope you are excited about the future. While 5G itself might not have an immediate effect on your life, especially if you are already in a modern household, it opens the doors to possibilities only dreamt up in science fiction and futurist articles.