What Is 5G Technology?

May 21, 2019 • Shannon Flynn


People can quickly find news stories that remind them of how the 5G network is coming soon, and that it’s time to get prepared.

Beyond that, what is 5G technology, and how will it work?

5G Is a Next-Generation Wireless Network

The G in 5G stands for generation. Each of the previous generations of wireless networks brought improvements along with it. Some of the top perks of the 5G network include faster speeds, lower latency and the ability to handle the connections from more devices at once.

The latter advantage is particularly helpful for urban areas or people who love to grow their collections of smart devices.

5G Can Use Higher Frequencies

Something that separates the 5G network from 4G technology is that it uses different frequencies of radio waves.

While the 4G network operates in a frequency range below 6 gigahertz, the 5G network occupies frequencies from 30-300 gigahertz. The frequency difference gives 5G more capacity for faster speeds.

Also, those higher frequencies don’t contain as much existing cellular information. That less-cluttered characteristic makes them better able to support humans’ future data transfer needs.

Another thing for people to be mindful of regarding 5G frequencies is that they’re highly directional and don’t travel as far as the wavelengths associated with lower ones.

5G Equipment Is Different Than Existing Cell Towers

As people learn about more details that help them understand 5G technology, they’ll likely come across material that explains how the equipment needed to make it work is not the same as the cell towers commonly used now.

Since 5G uses shorter wavelengths than previous wireless generations, the antennas are shorter, too.

Moreover, 5G utilizes small cells. They’re low-power base stations first associated with advanced 4G LTE applications and now are widely used with 5G. Since small cells handle short-range wireless transmissions, they work for limited geographic areas.

It’s also possible to use them indoors. They offer speedy wireless options for people in concentrated areas. That means the potential uses for small cells span from sports areas to train stations.

Ericsson is one of the telecommunications companies recruiting more tower climbers. It needs those workers to lay down the infrastructure that makes 5G technology function and expects the number of towers it owns to increase as 5G coverage does.

However, some people are protesting the arrival of 5G equipment. Since 5G frequencies don’t travel as far as those associated with older networks, it’s necessary to place more antennas closer together, such as every 1,000 feet.

Critics assert that the antennas detract from the beauty of their neighborhoods and fear they could pose health risks. More cells also mean more potential for electromagnetic interference (EMI), which can disrupt devices on the network. Greater vigilance will be required to ensure EMI levels don’t interfere with vital equipment such as medical and automotive electronics.

It Will Change People’s Expectations About Internet Speeds

Many leading telecommunications providers give hypothetical scenarios about how fast 5G technology will be during times of peak performance.

However, people understandably wonder about performance during real-world scenarios.

Qualcomm began to investigate that matter by creating simulations in San Francisco and Frankfurt. The results showed that users associated with the San Francisco simulation saw a median download speed of 442 Mbps, and 90 percent of them went from at least 10 Mbps on older networks to 186 Mbps on 5G. Web browsing speeds also went up, as did the video quality during mobile device streaming.

If those results hold for 5G users across the board, people could have drastically altered expectations about what constitutes acceptable internet speeds.

However, people in rural areas may not get the faster speeds and other benefits of 5G for a while. That’s due to several reasons, including the difficulties and resources needed to improve the infrastructure there.

5G Technology May Increase Cyberthreats

Cybersecurity analysts say 5G technology could change the threats internet users face. Researchers found flaws in 5G’s mobile standard for a start, and experts have pointed out that as more people connect to the 5G network, the potential number of devices to attack goes up.

The low latency aspect of 5G makes it particularly suitable for applications like advanced healthcare equipment and industrial robotics.

It’s also easy to imagine how the broad reach of 5G technology could make cybercriminals especially eager to exploit its issues and bring about potentially catastrophic results.

It’s impossible to anticipate all or most of the cybersecurity problems that could come with 5G technology.

For now, researchers can start to investigate the likely possibilities, plus have proactive mindsets in dealing with issues as they become known.

Lots of Changes on the Horizon

People typically want to know what makes 5G technology different from the wireless systems they know.

The information above covers many of those aspects and highlights some of the reasons why 5G is so exciting.