As the new year was ushered in, murmurs of a large technological shift reached the ears of corporations and regular consumers alike. Fifth-generation networks, the once-in-a-decade wireless system upgrade, is slated to reach mobile phone users within months, but the potential of this technology goes beyond faster smartphones. These new networks will be able to power technological innovations from self-driving cars and virtual reality to smart cities and networked robots.
5G networks offer speeds 100 times faster than current 4G networks, and can speed up devices such as industrial robots, security cameras, drones and cars that send traffic data. For the average mobile phone consumer, 5G’s appeal is in leaping ahead of 4G, the current wireless technology, by offering mobile internet speeds that allow users to download entire movies within seconds, revolutionize the world of online gaming, shopping, etc.
5G primarily operates on three premises: faster speeds, faster connections and faster access to the cloud. As with every “generational” iteration of wireless network technology, 5G’s improved speeds mean a 3D movie could be downloaded in 3 seconds, as opposed to 6 minutes on 4G. According to the New York Times, “Rather than remembering to download a season of a favorite TV show before heading to the airport, for example, you could do it while in line to board a plane,” said Justin Denison, a Samsung senior vice president. Samsung is spearheading this technology with its new Galaxy S10 5G phone, the first device able to run on 5G wireless networks. 5G networks will also virtually eliminate the latency, or lag time, when a signal is traveling to a server. Although this may not mean much to the average user, who does not need to distinguish between latency of a second and a millisecond, it can make all the difference in devices such as self-driving cars. These vehicles rely on fast transmission and processing of electronic messages relating to traffic patterns, and if there is a delay in the message being received, the consequences could be disastrous. A split-second can make the difference between life and death. 5G networks can also act as a cloud server, meaning the network can automate activities such as self-driving cars computing and storing electronic messages. This can potentially save the car’s power and space.
Although 5G networks are poised to usher in various technological developments, their architecture presents issues for telecommunications teams. While fourth-generation networks use low-frequency waves, which can easily travel long distances and avoid large obstacles, 5G uses higher radio frequencies and relies on millimeter waves to transmit data, which have a smaller range than 4G waves and cannot navigate physical obstacles as easily. Thus, for the time being, 5G is meant to be used in tandem with 4G, not as a replacement. Some carriers, such as Qualcomm and Intel, are already attempting to address the infrastructural issues by combining millimeter and low-frequency wave technology. 5G may provide speed boosts in crowded areas with many physical obstacles, but for the time being, 4G will be used to cover large areas.
5G can also be used to pioneer the field of remote surgeries, the first of which was performed on an animal in China. Using the low latency of 5G networks, a doctor controlled robotic arms to remove the liver of a laboratory test animal in a location 30 miles away. If the same procedure had been performed using a 4G connection, the slow latency time would have increased the risk of errors.
While the exploration of 5G allows for advancements in technological innovations such as AI self-driving cars, remote surgeries, virtual reality, etc., the most immediate applications of 5G are in the realm of video calls, gaming, and streaming multimedia content. The average user can save 2 minutes and 20 seconds a day on waiting for social media websites, save more than three hours when downloading a Spotify library of up to 10,000 songs, and save about 23 hours per month across movies, TV, music, games, and social media, according to TechRepublic.
“The low latency of 5G networks can be especially beneficial when doing school work using various devices. For example, a student turning in an assignment at the last minute will not have to worry about their assignment being marked as late because the server was lagging and they went over the deadline,” Senior Wendy Zhai said.
5G access can also have implications for technology integration in the classroom. According to a study conducted by education technology nonprofit Jisc and telecommunications company Vodafone, “Internet of Things (IoT) technology can help us change the role of teachers in the classroom, reducing the burden of the administrative load on them and allowing them to concentrate more on individuals.” Real-time analyses of notes and being automatically logged in to the classroom upon entering class are some ways in which IoT can enhance the connected classroom experience.
5G is poised to radically change how we communicate with each other and facilitate the seamless integration of technology into our daily lives, as well as make advancements in the fields of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.