At the end of 2017, the wireless industry came up with the first official 5G standard. AT&T plans to launch mobile 5G in the US this year, Verizon says it will launch 5G for homes, and both T-Mobile and Sprint say that they’re launching 5G phones early next year.
But a standard doesn’t mean that all 5G will work the same—or that we even know what applications 5G will enable. There will be slow but responsive 5G, and fast 5G with limited coverage. Let us take you down the 5G rabbit hole to give you a picture of what the upcoming 5G world will be like.
1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G
1G was analog cellular. 2G technologies, such as CDMA, GSM, and TDMA, were the first generation of digital cellular technologies. 3G technologies, such as EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS, brought speeds from 200kbps to a few megabits per second. 4G technologies, such as WiMAX and LTE, were the next incompatible leap forward, and they are now scaling up to hundreds of megabits and even gigabit-level speeds.
5G brings three new aspects to the table: greater speed (to move more data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).
The actual 5G radio system, known as 5G-NR, won’t be compatible with 4G. But all 5G devices, initially, will need 4G because they’ll lean on it to make initial connections before trading up to 5G where it’s available.
4G will continue to improve with time, as well. The upcoming Qualcomm X20 modem will support 4G speeds up to 2Gbps. The real advantages of 5G will come in massive capacity and low latency, beyond the levels 4G technologies can achieve.