Posted in Technology

Make sure you understand the features of a 5G phone if you buy one before 2020

Now, I have seen enough articles and referrals to 5G mobile phones that will be available soon (it is October 2018 at the time of writing this). I only have one thing to say: consider twice before buying anything advertised as 5G yet. Let me tell you why.

The 5G technology is not ready yet. The worldwide, industry-approved standard is planned to be ready by 2020. Sure, phase one of the 5G standard was approved in June 2018, but the complete specification is planned to be ready in March 2020. It is already possible – and that’s what some companies are doing – to develop components and software for 5G products to be launched later.

5G requires new hardware

5G is a major change compared to the way existing 3G and 4G mobile networks work. Mobile network providers have to install new transmitters and receivers to towers for long distance signals, and they are also going to install mini cells that cover a very short distance, for instance, in a food court or at a train station. The short distance signal (millimeter waves) provides superfast data speeds, and the long distance signal fast download and upload speeds.

Gigabit speed in a lab, but rarely on a street

Mobile device vendors will talk about gigabit download speeds, but in real life, maximum speeds defined in specifications or achieved in labs are rarely possible. The reasons are the same as in existing mobile networks: signal strength and the number of other users in the same cell easily lower throughput.

In any case, none of the existing mobile devices we have today can connect to a 5G network because the over the air radio connection is different from 3G or 4G.

generations 2018. photo by Joris Louwes.
Generations by Joris Louwes.

When the first 5G devices become available, and the vendor can demonstrate it really connects to a live 5G network, it is worth checking how it connects and to which part of a 5G network. It is expected that the early adoption of 5G technology is achieved in dual mode. For instance, a 5G mobile device connects to a superfast 5G short distance signal, but uses 4G technology for connecting to a 4G network when 5G signal is not accessible.

It is a massive amount of work and investment for mobile network operators to deploy 5G, so it will take time. Many operators say they have already started to prepare for 5G in their networks to be ready to go live in 2020. Some operators claim they will start 5G service in 2019, but what does it really mean? Well, in some cases, they can provide a 5G router to homes with poor fixed broadband connections.

Benefits of 5G

In 2020 and a few years after that, buying a dual mode 4G/5G mobile device is a good choice for a high-speed hungry mobile user to enjoy the benefits of 5G, such as:

  • Fast download and upload speeds.
  • Low latency enables virtual reality, games and other applications.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) becomes reality because 5G is designed to be ready for massive number of devices.
  • Network World has published a long article on the expected benefits of 5G for further details on the technology.

Earlier mobile network generations enabled plenty of innovative applications and hardware products. Each generation – 2G, 3G and 4G – has introduced a significant boost to data transfer rates. Among other things, the low latency and superfast millimeter wave data transfer of 5G technology have vast potential to allow innovators to create fascinating new applications.

But 5G technology is not yet commercially available for mass markets. When it is, around 2020, there will be teething problems with compatibility, roaming, and other things. We can expect device and network equipment manufacturers, along with mobile network service providers to move quickly to correct these problems. This is, after all, the fifth generation mobile technology, and they have done all this before.

chat time. photo by Matthew G.
Chat time by Matthew G.

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