The Shift From 4G to 5G Will Change Just About Everything

Including speed, bandwidth and low latency

Low latency with 5G means web pages would load in a millisecond. Sources: Getty Images
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Telecom experts are going so far as to herald the arrival of 5G as the advent of the fourth industrial revolution. There are an ever-expanding number of high-tech devices out there trying to connect to the internet every day, many of which require extensive bandwidth, and companies across the board will leverage 5G capabilities to better reach consumers.

“The application of 5G technology will result in massive changes for both consumers and enterprises,” said Jeff Weisbein, founder and CEO of digital media company Best Techie. “5G networks will offer consumers incredible broadband speeds at home (up to 20Gb/s). It will also enable companies to make advancements such as even smarter, better connected cars, advancements in medical technologies and improved retail experiences through personalization.”

5G refers to 5th-Generation Wireless Systems and uses additional spectrum in the existing LTE frequency range to build on the capabilities of 4G, which is often used interchangeably with 4G LTE by marketers. LTE denotes Long Term Evolution, and is a term that was deployed with early 4G networks that presented a substantial improvement on 3G, but did not fully qualify as 4G, meaning 4G LTE is essentially first-generation 4G.

“Through a combination of high speeds, massive bandwidth and super low latency, 5G will allow for improvements in AR, VR, robotics, cloud gaming, immersive education, healthcare and more,” said John O’Malley, a spokesperson for Verizon. “It will allow you to send so much more data so much faster and technology will be more responsive.”

We’ve briefly covered in the past how 5G could change the marketing landscape, but how exactly can we expect 5G to differ from its predecessors?

Improved precision

5G uses unique radio frequencies that are higher and more directional than those used by 4G. The directionality of 5G is important because 4G towers send data all over, which can waste power and energy and ultimately weaken access to the internet. 4G networks use frequencies below 6 GHz, while 5G will use much higher frequencies in the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range.

The larger the frequency, the greater its ability to support fast data without interfering with other wireless signals or becoming overly cluttered.

5G also uses shorter wavelengths than 4G, which means antennas can be shorter without interfering with the direction of the wavelengths. 5G can therefore support approximately 1,000 more devices per meter than 4G. On 5G, more data will more quickly get to more people with less latency and disruption to meet surging data demands.

5G networks can also more precisely understand the data being requested and can self-modulate power mode (low when not in use or high when you’re streaming HD video, for example), generally making devices more user-friendly.

Low latency/more bandwidth

With 5G, it takes less time for the signal to travel, which translates to low levels of latency. “We’re talking latency of a millisecond on 5G networks,” said O’Malley. Pages will load much faster, allowing for a significantly greater immersive experience, particularly in the realms of VR and AR.

Video sharing on social media mushroomed with the arrival of 4G/LTE, and will continue to escalate across all apps and services with the coming of 5G.

“Video now makes up more than half of our mobile data traffic,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO, AT&T Business. “Our video traffic grew over 75 percent and smartphones drove almost 75 percent of our data traffic in the last year alone. ‘Viral videos’ and ‘binge watching’ are part of the cultural lexicon now.”

“Technologies such as AI and machine learning offer great potential, but require high bandwidth and low latency to achieve optimal performance,” said Katibeh. “The same is true for technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality, which can offer a customer experience like nothing before.”

For example, a home decor brand could use 5G and immersive VR to show customers what furniture would look like in their homes, or a financial services company could transform an ATM into a full-service branch powered by video conferencing over a 5G wireless connection.

Ultra-low latency applications provide endless opportunities and will revolutionize the way consumers shop. “In the not-too-distant future, mirrors could be replaced with high resolution monitors with Internet of Things (IoT) cameras that allow you to ‘virtually’ try on dozens or hundreds of combinations of clothing,” offered Katibeh. “You could ‘swipe right’ to try on another shirt or even automatically get recommendations on accessories.”

Autonomous cars could use live maps for real-time navigation on 5G, which is crucial to their efficacy, and could eliminate some of the problems currently experienced with self-driving cars.

Higher download speeds

Everybody wants their device to be working at peak speed, and this is easier to achieve when there are fewer devices and other interferences affecting speed. 5G has the potential to be 20 times faster than 4G, meaning you can download things 20 times faster or download more in less time. 5G has a peak speed of 20 Gb/s, while 4G’s is only 1 Gb/s.

However, things rarely work at peak speed, so it’s important to take into consideration normal speeds as well. Because 5G has not yet been released, experts agreed it’s hard to say accurately how much faster it will operate than 4G, but estimates put it at at least 10 times faster than 4G.

What’s next?

There will not be an overnight shift from 4G to 5G, O’Malley explained. 4G will continue to run in parallel with 5G and 5G will be rolled out gradually. Verizon is rolling out 5G first in residential broadband in three to five markets including Los Angeles and Sacramento and will soon announce additional plans for rollouts.

Following residential broadband, consumers will notice 5G on mobile devices and then in places like smart homes and municipalities.

It’s too early to say how 5G is going to impact carriers, O’Malley said. There is much about the impact of 5G that remains to be seen. In light of the arrival of 5G, Katibeh said AT&T plans to virtualize 75 percent of its core functions by 2020.

Of course new technology always brings new obstacles–the impending greater connectivity makes security paramount and will be a key challenge for businesses.

“Who would have thought five years ago you could take a smartphone and catch a car without exchanging money,” said O’Malley. “The things we’re going to see in a few years with 5G, we cannot even imagine right now.”

@AlissaFleck Alissa Fleck is a New York City-based reporter, podcast producer and contributor to Adweek.