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The Pros, Cons and Potentials of 5G

The term “5G” has been appearing in the news frequently as many communications companies start setting it up in major cities, but what exactly is it and why is it so controversial?

The improved bandwidth that 5G offers will allow consumers to use their phone as a mobile hotspot with speeds comparable to a traditional modem or Wi-Fi network.

What is 5G?

5G is the latest generation of cellular network technology. Essentially, a higher number next to the G means the user will be able to do anything they’d normally do with a cell signal – phone calls, surfing the web, streaming videos – only faster. Imagine the difference between the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X, just with fewer glaringly obvious differences.

Pros & Cons of a 5G Network

Every few years, a new generation of cellular network becomes available, bringing with it a slew of improvements to the speed at which we communicate but also some growing pains as cell carriers and network distributors adapt to the new technology.

Our fiber department splices cables that are currently used in 4G networks. Someday, they'll be splicing fibers to be used in 5G connections.

We most recently saw this when 4G and LTE replaced 3G as the standard broadband cellular network in 2012 and ‘13. The standards established with the introduction of 4G require peak data rates of 100 megabits per second for use in high mobility communication - people using phones on cars, buses, etc. - and at least one gigabit per second (gps) for low mobility - pedestrians or phone users who are standing still.

We'll see an even larger improvement with 5G, which requires services to offer peak data rates of 20 gps using a technology called emBBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband).

Another benefit differentiating 5G from its predecessor is latency, which is the interval of time between the moment when info is sent from a device to a receiver and the moment when the receiver can use the information.

While 4G connections have a standard latency of around 20-30 milliseconds, 5G networks can reach below 10 milliseconds of latency, allowing users to upload and download files faster and to use their mobile connections in place of a cable modem and Wi-Fi network.

Of course, this is all still theoretical. Tests have been done, but we don’t know how viable that increased bandwidth is until 5G gets released to consumers, and that’s where some of the cons start to creep to the surface.

One disadvantage of 5G technology is that worldwide implementation of 5G will require many new cellular towers to be built, which could take a long time and require the purchase of new land leases. This will lead to deforestation and the cluttering of rural areas with new towers.

Cell towers help spread network and connection availability, but having too many of them could pose issues.

Having a higher bandwidth also means that 5G signals take up more space on the radio frequency, which is already largely consumed by 3G and 4G networks. Placing extra stress on the radio spectrum could lead to slow connections or interruptions entirely, and it will take longer to establish new 5G networks in more rural areas of the United States.

We’ve seen this all before. While 4G was indeed faster than 3G, it required more cell towers to be built very close to one another. They were putting out a stronger signal, sure, but that signal covered a smaller area, resulting in a longer period of rollout for 4G than 3G. It will likely take even longer for 5G to become prevalent.

When Will 5G Be Available to Consumers?

One thing is clear: we’re still a few years away from the proper implementation of 5G. Right now, there are only a handful of phones on the market that support 5G networks. We probably won’t even see the technology explode in popularity and availability until Apple announces a model of the iPhone that uses the technology, and that won’t happen until fall 2020 at the absolute earliest.

Like 3G and 4G before it, 5G will soon come to shape the way we interact with each other.

In the meantime, get educated. There are several informative resources that you can peruse online to learn more about 5G and how it works, as well as when to expect its arrival. Someday, Multilink’s fiber optic products are going to be used to help send and receive 5G signals all over the world, and we’re both excited to explore this new frontier in wireless communications.

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