Some are calling the advent and rollout of 5G the fourth industrial revolution. Can it possibly live up to the hype?
Yes, 5G connectivity sounds pretty exciting. It promises a new era of cellular wireless networks and digital connectedness that includes faster mobile data access and better connectivity for your wireless devices.
It could, in theory, mean downloading a two-hour film onto your phone in a few seconds, never having to wait for a website to load or a video to buffer, and eventually eliminating the need to use wires, or even Wi-Fi, to access the Internet.
It also opens up the possibility of entirely new technologies – robots, sensors, driverless cars, drones, lamps, refrigerators, smoke alarms – synced up and working together in real time, and virtual- and augmented-reality experiences, like this futuristic fashion show.
One can imagine a cityscape right out of the film Blade Runner, but the truth is that these are early days and there are more practical matters to deal with, like placing hundreds, thousands, and millions of poles and receivers (sometimes called “nodes” or “cells”) around places people want (and eventually expect) to use 5G.
Because 5G operates on a much higher-frequency spectrum than 4G, and higher frequency means shorter range, those giant cell towers we’ve all become accustomed to seeing will only work with nodes placed every few hundred feet. Even then, the signal doesn’t travel well; outside, things like buildings and trees get in the way, and those pesky walls in your house make indoor use difficult.
Clearly, it’ll take a long time and great expense to roll this out around the world, and there will be an early divide in 5G access between urban and rural areas. In some U.S. cities where 5G has already begun to roll out, pressing concerns include the aesthetic issue of having to look at the nodes every few blocks (and maybe outside your window or backyard), a potential decline in property values, and adverse health effects (which have been widely debunked).
There is also potential for increased cyberattacks, surveillance, and, perhaps the biggest concern for most consumers, is the cost of purchasing a 5G-enabled smartphone and plan.
Is it worth it? Here, technology YouTuber Marques Brownlee explains and tests 5G connectivity with a 5G phone. He concludes that he’s optimistic about the future of the technology, but wouldn’t buy a new, 5G-enabled phone in 2019. “It just isn’t ready yet,” he says.
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