The world of 5G

I did my best to regale you all with the intricacies of 5G wireless evolution in class, but admittedly it’s scale and technicality makes it difficult to really dive into during a six-minute presentation. That being said, I want to recap a few things about 5G and dive deeper into some technical aspects of these innovations as well as the dramatic impact it’s sure to have on industry in the future.

Evolution of Wireless Networks

To clear up a few things, the “G” in 5G, 4G, etc., simply stands for “generation”. The wireless network infrastructure generally gets updated once a decade to handle increased usage as well as implement innovative technologies previously unavailable. The first-generation wireless network (or 1G) brought us into the connected age with simple analog phone calling. 2G became available in the late 1980’s and brought improved audio calling, providing greater affordability and reliability than its predecessor leading to more widespread adoption. This wireless generation provided the ability to deliver text and picture messages for the first time, but at very low speeds. 3G wireless technology afforded the first taste of true mobile broadband and mobile computing, initiating the proliferation of apps and creating ~ the smartphone ~ as we know it today. 4G was introduced to expand on the bandwidth and downloading capabilities of 3G and to deal with increased adoption of mobile streaming services, video chat, and digital business that flourished. This technology made access to the internet everywhere a reality.

The key to 5G’s impact lies in it’s incredibly fast speed, increased capacity, and virtually negligible latency. 5G plans on promising almost unimaginable download speeds and a dramatic increase from what 4G offered. Expectations say that 5G infrastructure will provide ten times the bandwidth speed of 4G(LTE) with peak rates of 10 GB per second. To put this in perspective, a 4G(LTE) network would take six minutes to download a two-hour long 3D movie, while 5G networks would take only 3.6 seconds to do the same. With a dramatically increased capacity, the new networks will allow for 1 million connections per square kilometer finally giving the necessary room for things like autonomous vehicles, smart-cities, and the proliferation of the IOT (Internet of Things). The final piece to the puzzle is the low latency, or the time it takes between an action (call to a network) and its response. At less than a millisecond, communication between the network and devices on the network is almost instantaneous. It’s this reliability that will enable greater access to AR/VR as well as real-time communication between things like vehicles on the road, critical pieces of infrastructure, and even the devices in our home.

5G is an eventual reality, but full implementation and development of the necessary infrastructure for this type of network is difficult. Most estimate that the first true 5G capabilities will be available by 2020 in certain areas, but providers are racing to build out their networks and get to market. 4G infrastructure worked through large macro cell-towers that operated at low to mid band frequencies, < 1 GHz and < 6 GHz respectively. These frequencies describe the portion of the wireless spectrum that digital information is communicated through. Low-band spectrum (<1 GHz) is the primary range used for 4G(LTE) by US carriers because it provides wide coverage. The tradeoff at this level is slower bandwidth speed and limited capacity which is quickly being used up as we continue to connect more things to the internet. As frequency increases and you begin utilizing mid-band spectrum at < 6GHz, speeds increase but building penetration and coverage become an issue. Many 4G(LTE) networks are utilizing this portion of the spectrum and relying on it as a foundation to build upon as they rollout their 5G infrastructure.

The true power of 5G and what’s creating all of the excitement lies in its ability to operate at all low, mid, and high-band spectrum levels, finally opening up the opportunity of utilizing frequencies greater than 6GHz. While this provides the ultra-fast speed, increased capacity, and low latency promised, the coverage and building penetration at this level of the spectrum is poor. To combat this, 5G networks will rely on a large network of small-cells to deliver extremely fast coverage. These cells are low-power, short range wireless transmission systems that provide network coverage to small indoor and outdoor spaces. Large networks of these cells, just the size of a mini fridge, will mean broad coverage with many connection points instead of solely at a remote cell-tower.

There seems little doubt that 5G will have a substantial impact on almost all aspects of our society. The introduction of 5G and its advantages opens the doors to innovation in all fields and has exciting expectations for both economic and social impact. Reports estimate that that the shift to 5G will garner almost $275 billion in investment from American wireless companies. In addition, this transition is estimated to add 30 million new jobs and $500 billion to the economy.

While initially shocking, these numbers seem more believable when you look at how impactful this generation of wireless-connectivity will be across-industries. While there’s clearly some self-interest here, Qualcomm CEO was quoted as saying “5G will have an impact similar to the introduction of electricity or the car, affecting entire economies and befitting entire societies.” The energy sector alone has the ability to add $1.8 trillion to the US economy through digital monitoring and analysis of the electrical grid. The Healthcare industry is poised for disruption as 5G’s reliability and latency makes possible remote patient monitoring and even remote surgery. The level of connectivity provided by this enhanced technology will allow doctors and patients to stay digitally connected virtually 24/7 generating an estimated savings of $305 billion in healthcare costs. Possible by the advent of autonomous cars, 5G is expected to bring down travel times by 40%, save almost 22,000 lives annually, and save $450 billion annually in transportation cost. A major piece of the puzzle enabling these savings, is the introduction of “smart cities” brought about by 5G. This idea involves a completely connected city infrastructure through specialized, low-power wireless sensors. Connected to critical pieces of infrastructure such as bridges, buildings, and roads, these sensors will provide up to date information on their health and safety. Even bus stops, traffic lights, and trash bins will be wirelessly connected to keep cities safer and running more efficient, resulting in an estimated $160 billion in benefits and savings.

Each generation of wireless infrastructure brought about major changes in business and enterprise, but to society as a whole as well. Our access to technology has continually shaped the way we interact with each other and the businesses/services offered to us. With exponential increases in speed and connectivity 5G’s impact will be no different, if not more impactful.



  1. csaitta4 · ·

    While the idea of a Wall-E-like smart city is a huge development for first world countries to fathom, I can’t help but think of the effects that 5G might have in developing countries who are only now just being introduced (or very recently been introduced) to the internet. For societies like these, I think your metaphor of 5G being like the invention of electricity or the car to be even more dramatic. I think with the speed that comes with this, if businesses are willing to make the investment in developing countries, this could make huge strides in closing the gap and facilitating communication between developing and developed countries. I am hopeful that in the future when developed countries have successfully implemented 5G, they will be able to turn around and make investments in greater global connectivity and the global economy.

  2. There seems to be so much hype about 5G, and I get that it brings a tremendous amount of speed to the equation, but ultimately I don’t think individual users are going to notice a huge life-changing difference in their daily usage. As internet speeds have increased, our ability to compress and transfer information from device to device has greatly increased. Similar to the megapixel war with cameras, the internet speed war will see a peak and then begin to decline….and I think we are pretty much there. 5G will not be that huge of advancement, and I would be surprised if we really noticed.

    1. masonpeterman · ·

      I would argue that it’s not necessarily the individual usage that we will notice. 4G technology has done a great job at providing quick and reliable network connection that can handle the services we expect today. As personal usage is concerned, 5G is aimed at maintaining those services and the status-quo of connectivity we have come to expect as IOT, increased streaming, and digital services continue congest the available spectrum frequencies. The real impact will be seen by through the technologies that 5G will make possible i.e. drones, autonomous cars, remote surgery. If fully implemented these changes will be hard to miss.

  3. huang91j · ·

    The fact that the shift to 5G will garner almost $275 billion in investment from American wireless companies is a tremendous amount. I actually saw that a friend of mine through AT&T already has what looks like 5G but has been complaining quite a bit on social media that it’s slow. Understandably, it’s probably not optimized and reached its full potential so he hasn’t been able to see the real capabilities. I think a tendency from software and telecommunications companies may be rushing to get products out just to satisfy or meet a small demand from the public, without considering all the implications it has. The fact that it can help remote patient monitoring and improve remote surgery is amazing given that the low latency will improve accuracy and any miscommunications. I’m definitely excited for this technology and would jump on it the second it comes out to T-Mobile.

  4. kgcorrigan · ·

    I thought you did a great job summarizing a complex topic in your presentation, and was happy to read through this follow up to learn more! Using a comparison of movie download times to put the new speed into perspective really helped wrap my head around this. The cost savings brought about by 5G seem amazing, and it will be interesting to see how our society is affected by the introduction of this new technology in our daily lives. I do wonder if we are so accustomed to new technologies that we won’t notice a big difference on an individual level, but there seems to be great potential overall.

  5. merrimju · ·

    Great follow up to your presentation! I feel like I learned a lot from your article from terminology to practical implementations of the different G’s through time. Your statistics on downloading speed of a movie really put in perspective the improvement of 5G over 4G. I am curious why the latency between original generations was so long but now 4 to 5 is mere years.

  6. cynmzfigueroa · ·

    “5G will have an impact similar to the introduction of electricity or the car, affecting entire economies and befitting entire societies.” I initially wrote off this line but the more I think of it I can certainly see this. 4G really allowed pretty data-intensive apps and services to flourish. For example, the ease of streaming video calls has made it possible to have a service where you call your doctor remotely. I’m sure the transition will be somewhat clunky as it was with 4G LTE, where a lot of devices are released with the ability to support 5G before infrastructure is actually widespread. Something to keep an eye on for certain.

  7. Really well researched and presented! I loved your thoughts on the potential of this technology to completely transform the world as we think of it today. I really believe that 5G technology is going to invoke such radical change that we can’t envision what breadth and depth of how things will be different.

    Imagine what happened when app stores became popularized. Sure, people initially created apps that were low-hanging fruit. However, who could have imagined the prevalence of how apps would enable platform economies? Similarly, I think there are a lot of “low-hanging fruit” with 5G technology, but I think the long-term benefits will be something we can’t even imagine today.

  8. Awesome post as a follow-up to your original presentation. I’m really excited to see how 5G will affect the Internet of Things–I think it has huge implications for our cities. There’s no universal definition of a “smart city”, but I’d essentially define it as a connected city or neighborhood. A subsidiary of Alphabet, Sidewalk Labs is currently working on a 12-acre space in Toronto to develop a smart neighborhood. It looks like 5G will definitely help Sidewalk Labs make their neighborhood faster, and ultimately smarter.

    I’m curious about some of the risks associated with 5G and increased utilization of IoT. If more IoT devices are connected to the web, it seems like that may increase the possibility of major DDoS attacks. Did you come across any mentions of this in your research?

  9. adurney1 · ·

    Thanks for the post! Appreciate the clarification and deeper dive. 5G seems very exciting from a general consumer’s perspective. That quote about the introduction of electric cars really stuck with me. I did not realize the true potential of the 5G impact on our daily lives. I mean who couldn’t get behind 10X decrease in latency.

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