5G: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?

Tammy Allen, SR. Director | Marketing & Communications, NIIC
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels

Part 1 of 2 Blog Series

We’ve all heard about 5G and its next wave of technological opportunities. Yet, what does that mean, exactly, for consumers and businesses moving forward? Here to unpack those possibilities is Sanjay Udani, Ph.D., Technologist and Vice President for Public Policy at Verizon.

In the first of this two-blog series, you’ll learn about 5G: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter? The second of this two-blog series leads you through 5G: A Deeper Dive.

First, some basics. As Udani reminds us, the G in 4G or 5G stands for “generation.” Industry leaders have been working on this next generation of technology up to six years before its deployment. “With 5G, we started trying to predict the future in the 2010s. We were asking, ‘What will you use 5G for?’”

Increasing speeds and data rates, of course, were known. Yet, developers had to make some educated guesses about other potential uses that would, in turn, drive the technology.

Increasing Density and Volume

Consider density and volume. These issues come into play at airports, for example, where users might have a strong signal, but performance might not be that good because of the high volume of people on the network. Again, 5G addresses this issue by increasing the volume, in some cases delivering that capability to a million devices in a square kilometer.

When you consider that “the average household has several devices, and each one can be doing something,” said Udani, you begin to grasp the ways that 5G can address density and volume issues in real and meaningful ways.

Reducing Latency

Or consider gaming, where speed isn’t as much a priority as latency. Networks with high latency can result in delays between a player’s action and the actual result in the game. 5G addresses this problem with much lower latency than previously available. In some cases, it offers latency faster than the blink of an eye.

Offering Custom Options and Adaptations

Another exciting development in 5G is the custom options it offers app developers. “Up to now,” said Udani, “app developers had a connection to the internet and that was it. With 5G, they can ask the network to give them specific capabilities that the app needs.” In other words, according to Udani, “the network adapts to the user’s need.”

Understanding Spectrum

The ability to respond to user needs carries across 5G infrastructure as well. According to Udani, we’ll still see cell towers, but we’ll also begin to notice small cells, depending on the density of the population, which is where spectrum comes into play.

Udani explains, “different kinds of spectrum have different behavior based on frequencies. We talk about low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrums.”

Low-band spectrum, for example, is what broadcast radio stations use. It covers a lot of area but might not deliver as much capacity. This type of spectrum is ideal for areas that are less dense in terms of number of devices relying on that frequency. Conversely, high-band frequencies don’t travel as far but offer a ton more capacity.

Investing in Infrastructure

With all these changes, some things, at least on the surface, will remain the same. “We’ll still have cell towers,” said Udani. “The wireless connection only travels from the device to the cell tower. The rest of the network—99.99% of the connection—is wired.” That means that companies are investing in “a ton of fiber to connect to the network.” According to Udani, that’s to the tune of “47 million miles, enough to travel to the moon and back 100 times over, to lay the groundwork for 5G.”

What Now?

Want to know more about how this technology could impact the future? Check out Part 2: 5G: A Deeper Dive.


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