Column: What to know about wireless tech’s next generation

Q: When can we expect 5G for our smartphones?

The race to provide the next generation wireless technology is in full swing. With the increase in devices connecting to the internet expected to more than triple (to over 20 billion!) in the next four years, improving the wireless infrastructure is critical.

What is 5G?

In short, 5G stands for fifth generation technology. The wireless industry coined the phrase 1G for the technology used in the early ’90s as its first generation technology, which essentially allowed for wireless phone calls.

With major improvements to the infrastructure came 2G, which allowed for text messaging. Then came 3G, which added basic web browsing. And finally 4G arrived, which increased the speeds to allow reasonable usage of streaming video among other improvements.

Another addition to 4G is LTE (Long Term Evolution), the label to signify a marked increase in performance and consistency through a totally different technical approach over 3G.

As video goes from HD to UHD to 3D to 4K, and we all add new data-hungry devices to our lives, data speeds and capacity are going to need to increase in order to keep up.

How much better will 5G be?

It won’t just focus on improving speeds, 5G will also be adding capacity for more devices in the same area. We’ll need it to accommodate the huge increase in ordinary items all around us that will be connecting to the internet such as our homes, our cars and even our clothing.

Various iterations are being developed to increase speeds to at least 10 times that of today’s 4G LTE with much lower latency, which means packets of data will get to us all quicker when we request them. This will reduce buffering issues and provide hard-core gamers with a reasonable option to a wired connection for gaming applications.

The next era is also being built from the ground up to allow for a variety of traffic types, so it will offer a different type of connection based on what the device is and the data being transmitted; 5G networks will know the difference between a smartphone streaming 4K video and a moisture sensor in your basement sending humidity updates.

Think of today’s wireless technology as more of a single-lane road where cars, bicycles, joggers and walkers are all sharing the same space: 5G will segment the various traffic types so that cars get one lane, bicycles get another, and joggers and walkers are segmented in their own lanes.

When will 5G be available?

While there are a number of companies working on small-scale tests and development projects, we aren’t going to see it anytime soon. The best estimates for widespread deployment of 5G isn’t until 2020, so you can ignore anyone trying to make is sound like 5G is just around the corner.

Today’s best

There is a technology available today that is trying to bridge the performance gap between 4G LTE and 5G, which is known as LTE-Advanced or LTE-A. It’s theoretically designed to provide up to three times the speed of LTE, but is being advertised by various carriers as being 50 percent faster and requires a phone with LTE-A capabilities.


Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up