5G attributes

Brian Cooley/CNET

5G is the fifth generation of wireless data networks and an upgrade that you will want sooner or later, depending on your appetite for wireless bugs and growing pains. It is much more than the simple bandwidth or “speed” improvement on your phone that you’re used to from the history of 4G and 3G before it. 5G boasts low latency, intelligent power consumption, high density and network slicing — attributes that make it a breakthrough, and perhaps a confusing bore

So we’ve decided to make 5G understandable for you, the person who just wants to use it and understand what it’s worth, because it will come at additional cost.

First, 5G will revolutionize the capability of all the current technologies on your phone, and make it possible for your home internet to come from the air rather than a telco wire or cable. Then it will make possible new experiences that are still fringe, like augmented reality that works well anywhere, smart cities that are safer, cleaner and more efficient, and a truly connected car.


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5G made simple


Forget about archaic examples like “downloading a full-length movie in seconds” and move your expectations to a world that is more responsive, transparent and anticipatory.  

To get there you will need to replace everything you currently own that accesses a cellular network, as the 5G wireless gear is distinct from today’s 4G technology. That means billions of new devices over the next few years, making it clear why carriers and device makers are pretty excited about 5G. But you should be too, as this will be the first cellular data technology that can revolutionize your life, not just your phone.

Along the way, they will have to convince a fair number of people who believe 5G is a toxic technology due to its microwave spectrum radiation. But concerns about cellular radiation aren’t new: There is still no clear consensus that cellular technology is safe in general, let alone the 5G variant of it.

5g speed over 4G

Yes, 5G offers a big “speed” or bandwidth boost over 4G, but that’s so boring: Keep an eye on more interesting features like low latency and ultra high density of connections.

Brian Cooley/CNET

5G does emit “microwave” radiation, but so does anything using 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The point of contention is whether 5G’s number of antennas, proximity of antennas and the power levels coming from them make it hazardous. Conventional scientific wisdom has long held that radio waves don’t become dangerous to our bodies’ cells, or “ionizing,” until they reach frequencies found in X-rays, gamma rays and light from the sun. Even the highest 5G frequencies sit far below those types of radiation and are, therefore, considered safe or “nonionizing.”

That doesn’t prevent doubters in a number of US towns and cities from worrying about what we don’t know about 5G, but the FCC has final say on cellular towers and waves in the US and “preempts local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions, assuming that the provider is in compliance with the Commission’s RF rules.”

The bottom line on 5G safety is that the safety of cellular networks in general has been in dispute since at least the early ’90s, as well as that of radiation from power lines, which are of extremely low frequency. Anything with the word “radiation” attached to it is going to come in for fearsome speculation.

Impediments to 5G’s rollout are far fewer than the ways and places it is propagating and by early 2021 we should see a tipping point that makes 5G the new standard.

Originally published last week.