5G is coming.
Wireless providers have been breathlessly hyping 5G for more than a year, and it is hitting more major U.S. cities as we speak.
5G rolled out in Indianapolis last fall when Verizon launched its 5G Home Service – aimed at delivering faster internet to its customers' residence or business. Indianapolis was just one of four cities to get the service along with Houston, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
But that product isn't for cellphones. Speaking of which, few smartphones are 5G-enabled. The Moto Z3 was technically the first, but it required a special attachment to run the service.
AT&T launched its mobile 5G network in parts of 12 cities, including Indianapolis, in December. The first 5G+ device to be offered by the company was a mobile hotspot from Netgear called the Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot.
So what exactly is 5G? Just another tech gimmick or a real advancement for consumers?
The Journal Gazette sat down with Todor Cooklev, professor of wireless communications and applied research at Purdue University Fort Wayne, to get the scoop. Here is what he had to say:
Q. What is the history leading up to 5G?
A. Starting around 1980, the cellular industry has delivered a new standard every 10 years. For those that remember, 1G appeared around 1980, was analog (no data at all), had poor voice quality, and very expensive. 2G appeared in the early 1990s and was a major improvement in voice quality, but still could not connect to the internet. 3G appeared around 2000. It could connect to the internet at very low data rates. 4G (also called long-term evolution LTE) appeared around 2010. 4G provides internet connectivity generally at high data rates.
Consumers always want higher and higher data rates, reliability and coverage.
Q. What is 5G?
A. 5G is the latest cellular standard, coming about 10 years after 4G. 5G provides much faster data speeds, much lower delay, and much higher reliability, compared to 4G.
5G will support applications such as virtual reality, cloud-based services, autonomous vehicles, etc.
Q. When can I get it?
A. The first wave of 5G products is expected to be available in the second half of 2019 and the first half of 2020. Samsung Galaxy S10 will be the first true 5G phone and will cost more than $1,300.
The service providers are upgrading their networks, and Verizon has installed a 5G network in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis.
Q. Will 5G service cost extra?
A. The question of cost is interesting. Verizon will be charging an extra $10 for 5G service. It is unclear if consumers are willing to pay this extra charge.
For a while consumers will have a choice between using 4G or paying extra. After some time though, all phones will become 5G and there will be no choice.
Q. Is this the real deal?
A. Every standard is a major improvement compared to the previous one. However, it is important to understand that within each generation, there are smaller, incremental improvements. Essentially, service providers are upgrading their networks all the time. Cellular networks are so complex and so expensive that only a portion is replaced/upgraded in any given year.
Phone manufacturers are similarly improving their products all the time. A 4G phone from 2019 has higher performance than a 4G phone from 2011, although for consumers they may be both “4G.”
Q. My cellphone already says 5Ge – what does that mean?
A. AT&T has decided to brand its latest improvement to 4G as 5G Evolution (5Ge). 5Ge is not 5G, it is just an improvement to AT&T's 4G network.
Q. When will we see 5G here?
A. I am not sure when 5G will hit Indiana and Fort Wayne, but it won't be very long.