Since the end of 2018, network operators, silicon makers, and smartphone manufacturers have all been rallying around 5G, the next-generation wireless technology that is promised to revolutionize the world. Much of the rhetoric around it focused on faster speeds, lower latencies, and support for dozens if not hundreds of devices. Many of the examples carriers use to talk about how downloading an HD video file would take only seconds, something most consumers would be able to relate to immediately. While it does make 5G more understandable, it also boxes people’s minds around the concept of 5G as “just faster 4G”, and that undersells the new experiences that 5G will enable in the near future and beyond.
Speed does matter
To be fair, the improvement in speed and latency is indeed at the heart of 5G on a technical level. It is understandable that most people will immediately associate it with downloading large files or streaming media. After all, those are the very experiences that 4G enabled when it first launched, moving from 3G’s focus on mobile browsing and communication.
5G, however, can do a lot more exactly because it removes the barriers and limitations that were imposed by the previous generations of wireless technologies. The increased bandwidth, higher frequency, increased responsiveness, and wider provisioning for devices all work together in order to create new experiences that are no longer beholden to data limits and lag. One just needs to look at where current technology is heading and imagine how it could be made better when you don’t have to worry about slow Internet connections.
Healthcare and Robotics
The data that travels through 5G networks won’t just be movies or music, of course. Video and audio do more than just entertain, they can also save lives or help make them better with the right mix. Together with advancements in robotics and medical technology, 5G could enable remote procedures on patients who are unable to travel just to have access to professionals. Perhaps less drastic is remote assistance, once again through robots and machines that can be controlled half a world away.
Automotive and IoT
One need not look too much into the future to see 5G in action beyond smartphones. Carmakers today are already conceptualizing and developing systems that take advantage of 5G’s capacity to connect dozens if not hundreds of nodes, some of them no bigger than your hand. Cars with tires that can communicate road conditions to the driver, other cars, and city networks, can go a long way in ensuring the smooth and safe flow of traffic. Signs, street lights, and even decorative installations can quickly communicate with each other and with people’s devices, providing real-time information that people need to navigate the world of the future.
Mixed Reality and Computing
Going back closer to home, 5G’s low-latency properties can free virtual and augmented reality systems from being bound by cables or even by the walls. High-speed 5G networks can make data transfers feel like they’re coming from a nearby computer. Working on multimedia files stored on cloud storage can be so instantaneous you might think all the files are on your local storage.
That said, 5G definitely opens new worlds in the field of content consumption as well. Streaming can go both ways, after all. We’re already seeing the rise of game streaming, both on the cloud or on your computer at home, and the definitely benefits from significantly reduced latency. Interactive fiction can even become a more immersive experience when systems can react quickly to the input you give, like directing your own movie and seeing it unravel before your eyes in real-time.
Many carriers and equipment makers flaunt the numbers to show just how fast 5G or their 5G equipment is. You can’t blame consumers, then, for thinking that all this 5G hype is just about making Netflix instantaneous or winning the next eSports tournament. It can do that and a lot more, but it’s also going to take a lot more adoption, equipment, and tools to get everyone on board this new 5G world.