5G is coming, and it’s going to have a massive impact on almost every facet of how we use technology, with faster speeds and lower latency theoretically opening up huge new frontiers in everything from smartphones to self-driving cars.
But the future of mobile networks isn’t here yet. And with something as complex as 5G, dozens of companies, carriers, and device manufacturers all need to work together for this kind of rollout to happen. Here’s where everything stands right now, though:
We’re still in the early days of 5G, and news will accelerate as we get closer to networks rolling out and hardware releasing that support it. We’ll continue to update this post will all the new details, so check back often.
What is 5G?
On a basic level, 5G is the fifth generation of cellular networking. It’s what comes after our current 4G / LTE networks, much in the same way that LTE was a radical shift forward from 3G. Think of how much the way we used and interacted with our phones shifted when 3G data was first introduced, or how things changed again when high-speed LTE data came around. That’s the kind of change we’re looking at with 5G.
But on a more technical level, “5G” is an agreed upon set of standards defined by the International Telecommunication Union (the ITU) and the 3GPP, who work together with hardware companies and carriers to define what exactly a 5G network actually is.
And over the past few months, we’ve actually reached two general definitions for those: the non-standalone 5G New Radio network, which (as the name implies) is built off of existing LTE networks and hardware, and standalone 5G NR networks, which allows for new deployments of 5G in places that didn’t necessarily have that existing infrastructure.
The non-standalone standard was finished in December 2017, while the standalone standard was finalized in June 2018. Having extra time to work on it and being built on existing infrastructure means that when we do see the first real 5G networks start to roll out in 2019, they’ll likely be based on that first.
From a technical perspective, what makes a 5G network a 5G network is a little more complex than just “it’s faster.” There’s a variety of pieces toward reaching those speeds — use of technologies like carrier aggregation, multiple antenna arrays (MIMO and Massive MIMO, new, higher frequency spectrum bands, and of course, the most talked about aspect: millimeter wave frequencies, which are dramatically higher than the ones that we currently use for cellular data and can offer much faster speeds, but have a far shorter range and ability to pass through walls and buildings.
What all this means is that the 5G specification provides goalposts for carriers to reach with their networks, and a set of standardized technologies and tools to get there. How it reaches you — the consumers — is up to the carriers on how they’ll be implementing 5G, and which of these various technologies and spectrum bands they’ll be using to do it.
That brings us to the most important part of the state of 5G: what the major carriers are actually doing to bring about these next-gen networks. Here’s where everyone stands.
AT&T: AT&T started off its 5G network on the wrong foot with its “5G Evolution” network in 2017 — which wasn’t actually 5G at all, despite the name. But the company did promise in January to roll out real, 3GPP-standard based 5G in a dozen markets by the end of 2018.
So far, AT&T has announced six of the 12:Dallas, Atlanta, Waco, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Oklahoma City. There aren’t a lot of details on what parts of the spectrum AT&T is planning to use beyond the fact that it will utilize both “mmWave to provide mobile 5G first,” followed by additional spectrum bands in the future…..Read More>>>