Sure, 5G networks are expanding and we’re starting to get higher-quality video, lag-free gaming, and even wireless-based internet at home. But that is only scratching the surface of what is possible. The wilder ideas of 5G promise things like connected cars that warn each other in milliseconds to avoid crashes, or elegant augmented reality glasses that guide you through a smart city filled with sensors and connections.
Unfortunately, most of the so-called killer apps are still in the works. These advances will only be possible when 5G networks are built out enough to deliver reliable and fast connections. We’re not quite there yet.
“It’s just a whole different ball game in terms of reliable higher speeds and greater capacity to serve multiple users at the same time,” said Phil Solis, research director of connectivity and smartphone semiconductors at research firm IDC.
Therein lies the dilemma with 5G and what we will eventually be able to do with these powerful networks: Companies can continue to promise revolutionary leaps in various facets of technology, using better wireless networks as the underlying foundation. But until these networks are actually vastly improved, much of it will remain talk or limited-scale experiments.
The good news is that the carriers are shutting down. Although millimeter wave, or mmWave, delivers the absolute highest 5G speeds, it covers a smaller area than other types of 5G, so it is only used in parts of certain cities and event areas. Low-band 5G is barely faster than the current 4G LTE network in the US, although its longer range could reach suburban and rural users. Midband 5G is the sweet spot, and not only delivers higher speeds, but also allows many more people to access the network at the same time over large distances.
Most global networks are primarily built on mid-band 5G, but US carriers have a mix of all three. Midband 5G makes up most of T-Mobile’s 5G network, operating on 2.5GHz frequencies, while Verizon and AT&T are activating C-band and other midband frequency 5G services throughout this year.
With these network advances, combined with further improvements by ISPs and cloud computing companies to bring servers closer to people, 5G could change how we entertain ourselves, connect with others and move around the world – at least as far as we can imagine us. We probably won’t discover the best uses for 5G until the high-speed network delivers fast, reliable service across cities, suburbs and rural areas.
5G at home and on wheels
Smartphones have been connected to 5G since 2019, and as networks improve, video streaming and gaming have improved with higher-speed connections. Beyond devices, 5G will expand connectivity in the home and on the road.
Home internet over 5G reaches speeds comparable to wired broadband, and when 5G networks are built out – again, operators are waiting for mid-band 5G to expand coverage to more areas – it can be used in buildings that don’t. have fast wired internet and rural areas still dealing with dial-up or DSL.
Every US carrier has its own 5G home internet service, although AT&T only offers it in a few select areas. Verizon and T-Mobile have expanded to offer their respective services, but they still don’t offer them everywhere their faster 5G connections are available. Compared to their mobile subscriber base, not many customers have signed up for wireless Internet either — Verizon reportedly had about 433,000 fixed wireless subscribers in March and hopes to increase that to 4 million or 5 million by 2025, while T-Mobile announced it had reached 1 million subscribers in April and seeks to reach 7 million by 2025.
Operators still face an uphill battle to make customers aware that 5G internet at home even exists, so they have been offering services at discounted prices. For example, T-Mobile charges $50 a month for 5G internet at home, which is discounted to $30 for eligible customers already signed up for Magenta Max cellular plans. Verizon’s offer starts at $50 a month, although customers with eligible Verizon unlimited mobile plans can potentially save 50% on their monthly internet bills.
5G is coming to the roads too. Automotive 5G lets your car connect to nearby 5G networks, essentially upgrading the 4G LTE car-to-network features that enabled things like automatic collision detection and cloud services like maps, route guidance and traffic information.
5G networks could form the backbone of driverless travel. In Las Vegas belowstartup Halo launched its car service, which picks up passengers in electric vehicles controlled by remote drivers using T-Mobile’s 5G network.
But it also means regular cars will use the 5G spectrum to talk to each other hundreds of meters away with a technology called Sidelink to warn other cars about vehicles and pedestrians ahead.
“Maybe I hit the brakes and other cars will be aware of that and maybe they’ll react faster,” says IDC’s Solis. Sidelink is starting to be included in car chipsets, so he expects the technology to move closer to mainstream adoption in 2024 or 2025.
The dream is for the cars to talk to the streets around them in the same way, perhaps to warn traffic or emergency vehicles around the corner and recommend turning down the next street instead. It’s not hard to imagine the benefits of cars getting real-time updates on street and city conditions. But to do that, they need the neighborhoods and cities around them to be connected to 5G.
5G through your eyes
5G on the go will power something more exciting: augmented reality. To get information about whatever you’re looking at through your AR glasses, you need the increased data speeds and reliable connections of 5G. With such a connection, you can get instant language translation of anything in your line of sight, as shown inrevealed at Google I/O 2022. Or AR elements can give you en route to a destination. Google revealed this week that it is .
The complexities of connecting personal devices like AR glasses to large networks have largely been resolved, Qualcomm’s general manager of mobile modems and infrastructure, Durga Malladi, told CNET. The big stumbling block is battery life: Although phones have large 4,000 mAh and 5,000 mAh batteries in their large rectangular forms, there’s far less room on eyeglass frames for large battery packs, which can limit how long they can be plugged in 5G network.
“It’s really more about being smart about the way you’re wired,” Malladi said. “If all you’re interested in is sending a few short notifications back and forth from your glasses, you don’t need gigabit speeds for that.”
We’ll almost certainly find out before one of the tech world’s wilder predictions comes true — noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is working toward replacing the iPhone entirely with AR within a decade, according to a memo seen by MacRumors .
5G powering healthcare and smart cities
While 5G’s faster download speeds are important to customers, it iswhich will make ground-breaking applications possible. Some of these, such as remote surgery, have grabbed headlines for years, but minimizing the delay between surgeon and patient will improve response and, ideally, outcomes. Add AR/VR and surgeons can feel closer to actually being in the room where the procedure is being performed.
“Those kinds of applications will only be possible because of this lower latency side of 5G,” said Parv Sharma, senior analyst for devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research.
Remote surgery is just one aspect of telehealth, which has become more popular during the COVID pandemic as medical professionals have found more ways to treat patients from afar. Devices such as the Butterfly IQ ultrasound monitor transmit data via smartphones over cellular networks to healthcare professionals, and are so portable that one was recently brought up to the International Space Station.
5G can also make things easier elsewhere in traditional healthcare. In March 2021, AT&T turned on a local 5G network at the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine in Los Angeles to track patients and speed up secure data transmission for cancer research. British operator Virgin Media O2 has just turned on a private 5G network at Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, allowing staff to observe patients and update medical records faster and more securely than over a Wi-Fi network, TechRadar reported. Internet of Things, or IoT, sensors and technology will monitor medicine temperatures, air quality and room occupancy.
But 5G holds even more promise for where we live. Lining the streets with sensors will warn the 5G-connected cars of traffic, while also monitoring environmental conditions to alert civilian workers of dangers.
These sensors will become cheaper with new units with reduced capacity. RedCap devices have intentionally reduced connection speeds to reduce power consumption, opening the door to longer-lasting sensors and wearables that act as nodes in a connected ecosystem.
“5G is going to make a difference because it’s already being built at a frenetic pace and with the capabilities in the network to create a piece for such services,” said Peter Linder, Ericsson’s head of 5G marketing in North America.
The networks needed to support these city-wide applications will arrive much later than mid-band 5G networks, IDC’s Solis said, especially after the spread of multi-access edge computing, which moves processing from remote server farms to physical locations at the edges of the network, which are closer the population and more quickly available.
Getting 5G networks up and running is just one part of what will usher in a new era of connectivity. Without these speeds and reliability, we cannot yet imagine the best applications, because we are still thinking about how to use phones with 4G LTE. Back in that era, it took a while for developers to think through how they could utilize the higher mobile bandwidth for entirely new applications.
Solis compares it to how in the 3G days our access to data while on the road was so limited that we couldn’t even imagine something like ride-hailing apps, but these days Uber and Lyft are essentially modern travel infrastructure.
“No one said, ‘Oh, we need a faster network so we can (support ride-hailing apps),” Solis said. “The networks and the phones got faster, and then it came because it was there. It’s kind of like an ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality.”