You’ve probably heard about 5G at some point, the next generation of cellular technology that experts are predicting will bring a massive economic and societal shift. But what exactly is 5G, and how is it going to change your life?

Decades after the briefcase phone and years after the widespread introduction of the first internet-connected mobile phones, 5G is the next step in the technological evolution of communication.

But while many are quick to tout the advances that 5G is expected to bring, it also raises the threat of cyberattacks significantly, experts warn, and will require a daunting infrastructure update of communities across the country.

5G, experts say, will significantly increase the amount of data a network can process, as well as drastically decrease latency, or the lag time it takes for one device to send a request and another device to receive and process that request.

That means your internet will be a lot faster and your movies will download in seconds rather than minutes. But 5G also is expected to bring about immense changes to industry, transportation and communication.

“When we have network congestion, which we experience a lot, we have dropped calls, latency. The spinning wheel where you’re waiting for something to load,” said Scott Dunaway, a spokesman for the Texas 5G Alliance, which advocates for adoption of 5G by the state’s cities. “5G will create a 10 times decrease in latency of the network — as little as one millisecond.”

Dunaway said that with 5G, mobile phones will be 20 times faster and will be able to process 1 gigabyte per second.

And as millions of additional “Internet of Things” devices — such as smart home appliances, autonomous vehicles and your cellphone — become connected to the internet, 5G will allow for much greater data processing capacity, which will be required to support all those devices. That increased capacity, for example, will allow autonomous vehicles to communicate essentially in real time with minimal latency, Dunaway said.

The introduction of 5G could ultimately facilitate many of the futuristic fancies that fiction has depicted. The next-generation network will allow users to connect with home appliances ranging from your washing machine to the living room lamp, your dishwasher or even the lock on your front door.

Drones delivering packages to your doorstep could become routine, and the increased data could allow urban planners to better manage traffic flow, according to the Texas 5G Alliance.

Development of virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence may also advance at a greater degree, Dunaway said. Even medicine could change as doctors become able to remotely perform surgeries from thousands of miles away, he added.

“It’s going to create this real-time environment where a surgeon is in the room and able to robotically operate and offer that specialty several states away,” Dunaway said. “Those are the types of technology and innovations that we don’t yet know what will be unlocked.”

But while 5G may usher in a new technological era, it also presents profound cybersecurity risks, experts say, and requires a massive update to the physical infrastructure of nearly every U.S. community.

The trade-off with 5G and the enhanced speeds it offers is a reduction in the distance that signals can travel, as well as the signals’ permeability, or its ability to go through objects such as walls and trees.

In order for San Antonio to adequately support a 5G network, telecommunications providers are expected to have to install so-called small cell nodes on nearly every block across the city. The nodes act as miniature cell towers and will bring enhanced connectivity to nearby users. They can be placed on existing infrastructure, including telephone poles, streetlights and traffic lights.

San Antonio will require thousands of those cell nodes, but exactly how many is unclear, according to Marcus Hammer, capital programs manager for San Antonio’s Transportation and Capital Improvement Department.

Officials in Orlando, Fla. — which has roughly the same metro population as San Antonio — expect they’ll need 20,000 nodes to bring 5G coverage to about 60 percent of the city, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Hammer said San Antonio has issued around 600 permits for small cell nodes so far. His department is trying to manage the aesthetics of the nodes through creative means in order to avoid having large boxes full of the small cell node equipment on every corner of the city.

“We started working with (CPS Energy) way early on to eliminate the big meter box,” Hammer said. “You just see a nice, clean traffic signal pole out there.”

Hammer also said the city worked to ensure the small cell nodes wouldn’t stand out among the city’s historic and decorative poles that stand in some areas, as well.

“Instead of new proprietary poles all over the right of way, they’re going to mirror our decorative pole standard,” he said.

The poles aren’t the only things being used for the small cell nodes. Along César Chávez Boulevard, Hammer said his team put one node antenna on top of a traffic light and placed the components of the small cell node inside of a nearby street-side recycling bin.

But installing those thousands of nodes is only part of the job.

Each node must be connected to underground fiber optic cables, meaning individual cities will require thousands of miles of cables to be buried in shallow trenches beneath city streets. Hammer said in 2016 the city created a fiber deployment team to work with providers and facilitate the installation of fiber optic cables in San Antonio.

Companies like AT&T, Apple and several others have already installed thousands of miles of cable. “From our view, this is just another phase of the bigger (fiber optic cable) deployment,” Hammer said.

He said work on the city’s 5G infrastructure — primarily the installation of fiber optic cables and small cell nodes — will be “very similar” to existing general construction projects currently going on throughout the city.

But in addition to the challenges of physically implementing a 5G network in a city, it also opens up many more points of entry for a potential cyberattack.

As more devices become connected, cybersecurity experts said there’s a significant risk of hackers accessing smart home networks, and even U.S. critical infrastructure, including information sharing systems, power plants or other targets.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — issued a report on 5G in July that concluded that “the proliferation of 5G networks could provide malicious actors more attack vectors to intercept, manipulate, disrupt, and destroy critical data.”

“Anytime we come up with new, wonderful, cool advances in technology, there’s security issues that go with it. Sometimes, we do a good job of anticipating them. Sometimes, we don’t,” said Greg White, a cybersecurity expert and director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Great, now we’ve got 5G, I’ve got greater capacity. So does that mean greater capacity to launch denial of service attacks against you at greater speeds?” White said. “So you’ve got that aspect of it.”

One study conducted by two cybersecurity researchers at UTSA found ways attackers can access “smart” light bulbs, which can connect to a home network, allowing users to adjust things such as brightness and the color of the light.

A cyberattacker can glean information like what song you’re listening to or what movie you’re watching based on information from the bulb. But a smart light bulb also offers a way into the entire home network, which is typically controlled from a homeowner’s smartphone. From there, an attacker can extract private information without being easily detected.

Hackers “can actively and covertly exfiltrate private data from within a smart light user’s personal device or network,” the study reads.

And while a hacker learning what song you’re listening to or movie you’re watching may not seem overly invasive, that data can be used to “correlate media preferences, personality traits, and political orientation,” according to the study.

“People, when they purchase these (devices), keep in the back of their minds security and be cautions as you move forward,” White said. “When you get a device, do you need to supply personal info to that device? … Do you want it to be able to email you?”

It remains unclear when 5G will fully roll out in San Antonio, but some network providers may turn on 5G coverage on certain phones early next year.

San Antonio, though, is not quite at the same point in the race to 5G compared with Dallas and Houston, which has deployed around 1,500 small cell nodes in the city, Dunaway said.

The 5G change shift will come to San Antonio likely sometime around 2022, Hammer said, and could be akin to the introduction of the railroad, internet or other historic technological shifts.

“For any city, (5G) is a big investment,”Dunaway said. “Companies are ready to be there. Communities should be willing participants, and get everyone to the table to figure out — how do we drive San Antonio to be a smart city?”