The term 5G stands for fifth generation. The standards for 5G were adopted by the wireless industry in 2017, and since that time the major phone companies and phone manufacturers have been developing the infrastructure and the products that can support 5G. But 5G will support more than just phones — in fact, the goal is to make just about every internet-connected device run on a 5G network because it offers significantly more bandwidth for more devices and will allow for upload and download speeds that are 100 times faster and more reliable that 4G LTE, the current top standard.
Without getting too technical, 5G will use all three spectrum ranges that can carry a radio signal. 4G and its predecessors use only the low range of the spectrum and it has become massively congested, especially when there are a lot of people using it at the same time, such as in a big city at lunchtime.
But here’s the thing: There are no 5G phones on the market and there is no 5G service available to the public, despite what you might hear from AT&T. The company has begun using the term 5G E, in which the “E” stands for evolution — a move toward 5G. AT&T first used this trick before its 4G service was ready by relabeling its 3G HSPA+ service as 4G. While so-called 5G E will indeed be faster, neither AT&T’s service or products will conform to the 5G standard. My advice to you is to wait until 5G is established by cellular providers, along with real 5G phones and other devices.
So when will that happen? We should see at least two true 5G smartphones in the first half of this year if claims made at CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, held each January in Las Vegas) by Motorola and Samsung hold true. But a robust 5G network is another story. We may see small markets get 5G infrastructure, but it will be years until 5G will be available in most areas outside of major metropolitan areas.
The problem is that the distance 5G communications can travel is much smaller than 4G, which means more cell towers. However, in addition to upgrading the huge cell towers we know, 5G technology will require small cell towers affixed to things like lampposts and rooftops every 550 yards or so. And just like with high speed broadband, those in rural locations will be the last to get 5G.
What opportunities open with all of that future connectivity? In a word, the Internet of Things, or IoT, where every internet-connected device can share data with one another. That means smart vehicles that can “talk” to one another — such as when a car brakes quickly up ahead, yours may preemptively brake as well and prevent a collision. And of course, it will enable self-driving vehicles of all types from taxis to drones and provide reliable traffic navigation. Beyond transportation, the health industry will undergo huge changes as telemedicine, remote recovery, physical therapy via augmented reality and even surgery conducted by machines become possible.
But even the experts aren’t sure about what the future holds when 5G is fully implemented. That’s why Verizon announced its Built on 5G Challenge at CES that included a $1 million prize. The challenge is open to venture-funded companies, startups, nonprofits, educators and individuals like you. The money will be shared among several winners, who will then be invited to work in one of Verizon’s 5G incubator labs located in New York City, Cambridge, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Washington, D.C. The contest launches this spring, and you can sign up for alerts at https://www.verizon.com/about/our-company/5g/builton5gchallenge. If you decide to enter, let me know!