5G: The Future is now (kind of)!

David Galica - Owner of Armor Technologies

Mobile networks constantly innovate. In the 1980s, when wireless technology began to go mainstream, the 1G analog networks supported the bulky, brick-like mobile phones from that era. The 90s saw the introduction of 2G digital networks, when Code Division Multiple Access moved mobile phones beyond voice transmission into data and text messaging. Around 2001, third generation (3G) devices appeared, first in Japan, and then in the US, offering the high-speed data transfer and Internet connection used in the earliest smartphones. The first 4G LTE appeared in 2011.

But what is 3G and 4G service? Why has the advent of 5G networks caused such a stir?

3G service allowed users for the first time to utilize high-speed internet using a smartphone. Users could for the first time:

  • Download music, pictures and games up to 10 times faster than previous network capabilities
  • Quickly access social networks, news, sport, and weather
  • Stream music and videos
  • Use applications to personal and professional needs
  • Upload and share photos and videos quickly

The transition from 2G to 3G was a massive leap in capability only comparable to the leap between 3G and 4G. 4G phones built on the innovations of the 3G phone. Approximately speaking, 4G is around five times faster than existing 3G services.

The main reason 4G is faster than 3G is because of Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing. It sounds complicated, but it's the same technology used in Wi-Fi, ADSL broadband, digital TV, and radio.

OFDM is a technique for squeezing more data onto the same amount of radio frequency. It also reduces latency and interference. Data is split up and sent via small chunks of frequency in parallel, therefore increasing the capacity of the network. Multiple-input and multiple-output, or MIMO, is another reason 4G is able to provide faster speeds. It is simply the use of multiple antenna arrays at both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication performance.

This allows more data to be transferred without requiring additional bandwidth or drawing more power. 3G provided innovation in the world of smartphones, but 4G refined the technology to an unbelievable level.

Given the natural decade-long development cycle, fifth generation (5G) networks are due around 2021. But South Korea, the world’s most prolific adaptor of mobile technology, is pushing the limits of the science and plans to roll out a 5G network as early as 2017, with full availability by 2020. What does this technological push mean for savvy smartphone users?

Well, no one really knows at this point what 5G will actually look like because no standards have been formalized. Mobile communication occupies a relatively small frequency spectrum, between 600 MHz and 3 GHz, which means that 5G technology needs to improve the efficiency of the usable spectrum. In Seoul, South Korea, home of the fastest Internet speeds in the world, you can download an 800-megabyte movie in just 40 seconds on their advanced 4G networks. In comparison, if T-Mobile adopted 5G technology in the US, for example, that time would decrease to an astonishing one second for an entire movie download.

Right now, there are no 5G phones and devices to use the new technology, although manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and HTC are experimenting with new designs. No one knows for sure what features a 5G phone or device will have. While the specifics are unclear, the 5G concept is staggering. Once implemented worldwide, mobile industry experts say the network will have space for over 7 trillion connected devices in the coming decade—and each individual will have at least 10 connections, including smartphones, tablets, and smart appliances.

Tuesday September 12th, 2017