Download a movie in six seconds. Watch more immersive sports broadcasts. Enjoy sophisticated game play with only a few milliseconds of latency. Smart movie theater, smart home, smart car, smart personal devices … all will be connected by the new 5G networks, claim the experts. Qualcomm’s chief legal officer Donald Rosenberg told the World Economic Forum that, “we’re on the verge of a new age of interconnectedness, when the daily lives of people across the planet will be more closely intertwined than ever.”
“If past is prologue,” Rosenberg said, “this technological evolution will lead to dramatic societal changes.” Although it’s too early in the game to experience 5G’s most spectacular claims, the new networks are beginning to arrive, along with the very first (and very few) handsets and modems. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile all are either rolling out 5G service in parts of cities around the country, or have plans to do so later this year.
We’re in the early days of learning more about what 5G can and can’t offer us. First, 5G networks won’t initially be able to provide the oft-cited speeds of four to 100 times that of 4G, and 4G LTE itself will continue to evolve and remain relevant for some time. Although 5G excels at speed and low latency, it’s not so good at wide coverage or penetrating walls or trees. That means that, to reach your home or business, 5G requires many more small cell installations. The good news is that the 5G small cells are small and easily installed; the bad side is that any change is disruption and not all communities or groups will welcome the new installations.
Most importantly, 5G is not a single monolithic signal, but is actually made up of three types of spectrum: low-band or 600MHz spectrum, dubbed “sub 1GHz,” offers great coverage and penetration but its speed tops out at 100Mbps. T-Mobile is the big player in this spectrum. Mid-band spectrum, mainly owned by Sprint, offers speeds up to 1Gbps — but similarly has a hard time penetrating buildings; Sprint is using another technology, Massive MIMO, to compensate for this.
The most spectacular buzz, however, describes high-band spectrum, also called millimeter wave or mmWave, which offers peak speeds of 10Gbps. This spectrum, which will be offered by AT&T and Verizon, also has issues with limited coverage and penetration. Still, all the major U.S. telecoms have demonstrated 5G and either launched it or have plans to do so, while Intel and Qualcomm are working on 5G modems for phones, cars and other devices. Companies as diverse as tractor manufacturer John Deere to Audi, BMW and Volkswagen are testing out 5G capabilities.
Media and entertainment also stand to gain immense efficiencies from 5G networks. Several major studios are currently conducting tests to examine how 5G could transform their production of both live events and recorded film and TV content, as well as enable the creation of new forms of personalized and immersive experiences. To that end, USC’s Entertainment Technology Center will hold a Digital Town Square in downtown Los Angeles on March 28. The event will take a deep dive into foundational technologies of 5G, and focus on the practical applications of 5G to professional content creation and delivery and the consumer experience. More information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the horizon, 5G is predicted to be a very big business: Moor Insights & Strategy estimates that infrastructure spending will exceed $326 billion by 2025. More than 20 billion Internet of Things devices will connect to a projected 14 billion sensors, according to Ericsson. By 2025, predicts global wireless trade group GSMA, 1.2 billion people will have access to 5G networks (one-third will be in China).
“It will transform people, businesses, and society,” said Verizon chief executive Hans Vestberg. “It’s going to change everything.”