5G and 6G – Where are We Now?
Over the past 20 years, cellular service and mobile broadband have transformed the way we live. Now, with the hype around 5G and increasing chatter about 6G, many consumers wonder what these changes really mean to them. Here are a few answers.
What are the Gs?
The “G” in 5G simply refers to the “generation” of standards set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). 2G added messaging to the ability to make calls. 3G turned the cell phone into an internet platform with speeds up to 2 megabits per second (Mbps). 4G promised up to 400 Mbps, though this is shared capacity and maximum speeds realistically range from 10 to 100 Mbps.
LTE, or “long term evolution” was coined to describe services that exceed the 3G standard and approach the 4G standard. Now that providers have improved 4G networks to support 5G, LTE is almost real 4G in most places, and people tend to use 4G and LTE interchangeably. 4G brought streaming, video calls, and online gaming to mobile devices, but speeds are still slower than cable. 5G promises to be a game changer.
The 5G standard sets the minimum speed at 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), or 1000 Mbps, with millisecond latency. If you’re near a 5G tower, 5G can already deliver speeds as high as 2 Gbps. 5G is expected to enable virtual reality gaming, autonomous vehicles, fully connected factories and farms, revolutionary advances in the medical field, and the Internet of Things (IoT), or more smart appliances connecting directly to the internet.
Is 5G Available Nationwide?
5G operates on a range of wireless frequencies. Signals at the highest bands support Gbps speeds but can only travel about half of a mile. These are the high-band or mmWave frequencies available in limited high-density
areas – big cities and certain university campuses. Like LTE, though, there are transitional components to 5G. Providers have upgraded their networks so that 5G works on lower frequencies, too. On these lower bands, coverage improves but speed decreases. That’s the 5G that’s available in most places.
Is 5G Faster?
If you are close enough to a 5G tower, you can get gigabit speed on your 5G phone. In surrounding areas, depending on your device and service provider, you may see speeds that are about double what LTE offers. You may notice, however, that your battery charge doesn’t last long, or your connection is really slow in spots. When this happens, simply turn off 5G.
The good news is, 4G LTE has gotten faster over the past year or so. There are several reasons, like the work done to upgrade networks to support 5G and new devices using different bands of frequencies. Regardless of why, it’s great news for customers who depend on LTE service for internet access.
So yes, 5G can be faster. And, because of 5G, LTE is also faster. But don’t discount 5G yet -speeds will continue to increase as the technology matures.
How Soon Will I Need a New Phone or LTE Hotspot?
With the increased availability of 4G LTE, providers will soon discontinue 3G. If you have a 3G device, it’s time to upgrade. 4G devices will still work on 5G capable networks (at 4G speeds). 4G came out around 2010 and only now is 3G support going away, so 4G LTE network support will likely be around for another 10-15 years.
If high-speed 5G is available where you use your device (home, office, field, etc.), upgrading now might be worthwhile. You should confirm that the speeds are really there, though, by having someone with a 5G device do a speed test at your desired location(s) before you take the leap.
With 5G becoming a reality, 6G speculation is already on the horizon. 6G has not yet been defined. It may involve increased speeds, or it may introduce decentralization, allowing direct connections between devices and reducing dependency on tower location. For the immediate future, just look for service providers to maximize the value of 5G and technology companies to find more ways to take advantage of 5G.