Is 5G the 2021 Technological Game Changer?
We have all heard about the advent of 5G, but what actually is it and how is it different to what we had before?
Each generation of wireless cellular technology is denoted by a “G”, such as 1G, 2G, 3G, and so on.
Every generation introduces some new technology that is differentiated and improved from its predecessor, such as 2G utilizing digital transmission, or 3G’s packet switching over circuit switching. 5G -- the latest generation of cellular technology -- features millimeter waves, which have shorter ranges than 4G wavelengths, but have the capability to transmit data much faster. In short, 5G will have faster speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect to more devices within a certain area.
5G technology is divided into three bands, which in this case refers to a range of frequencies. Each range of frequencies, or bandwidth, is divided into sections and assigned to users, as two signals can’t share the same frequency. The range of the low-band spectrum is about 600 - 700 MHz, around the same as our current 4G. Since the range is the same as 4G, most of this bandwidth is already being used.
However, benefits of the low-band spectrum include a broad coverage and the ability to pass through walls and buildings. The mid-band spectrum is the next of the 3 bands, with a frequency range of up to 6GHz. It has more bandwidth than the low-band, and also provides faster speeds. One main issue with higher bands of 5G is the ability to pass through walls. This could present a major problem with the establishment of 5G, as buildings would require specific cellular aids or coverage would be inadequate.
The obstacle of walls is shared by the high-band technology, which can operate with a range up to 300 GHz. The high band offers extremely high speeds, reaching up to 10 Gbps and allowing many more users within a certain area to connect simultaneously due to the large bandwidth. Other than the lack of building penetration, a central drawback to high-band is the low coverage, as towers are not yet widespread and mainly cover dense urban areas.
5G will also feature beamforming, a technique to enhance the strength of the signal. Beamforming directs the waves towards a specific device through use of interference. By sending out signals with different phase shifts, the waves will constructively and destructively interfere, resulting in a final wave that propagates only towards the intended direction.
All of this technology and talk of fast speeds sounds great, but when will 5G actually be accessible for the average user?
So far, 5G has only been widely adopted and used in South Korea. In the United States, many cell providers have started rolling out 5G to certain areas, though it is in no way extensive, and most consumers do not yet have 5G. However, by the end of 2020, AT&T plans to provide nationwide coverage, with many other providers having similar plans.
Written by Bryan Xiao
Edited by Jason Kauppila, Jack Argiro & Michael Ding