Believe it or not, 5G simply stands for the “Fifth Generation” of mobile wireless networks. As in, this is the fifth major evolution of the technology that started with the analog transmission of voices via radio wave spectrum (1G) in the 1970s.
I find this nerdy stuff interesting because I thought my father had the coolest job in the world in 1974 - fixing household electronics. He would bring home parts from the shop and we built all sorts of weird devices that did wonderfully pointless things. As our analog world turned to digital, my Dad wouldn’t let my brother and I buy the console to play Pong, we had to build it ourselves. At the time I thought he was so uncool, but as I grew, I realized I was given a gift in nurturing my natural understanding of how technology worked from the ground up. So, what does my story about my Dad have to do with why you should care about 5G technology?
Young people are practically panting with anticipation at the idea that 5G massively increases the speeds at which their devices can stream huge video files, play games, and interact with friends and content, making it possible to do a hundred fun things at the same time. Especially right now, with so many Cape Ann households full of parents, kids, and even a grandparent or two, all working and living nearly 24 hours a day in their houses, if they could have access to a huge jump in available bandwidth, and increase the speed for all the devices everyone is using for work, school, and entertainment, there would be a lot of happier households.
5G technologies also provide a new variety of ways to move all that data around within available spectrum. While some of the lower and mid-tier parts of spectrum allow service providers to use existing cell towers and other hardware already spread across the USA, the high spectrum or “millimeter wave” spectrum provides speeds so fast that a 4K movie could be downloaded in a few seconds, or 50 kids could easily play against each other in a live video game. The problem is, that so called mmWave spectrum is easily disrupted by obstacles such as people, trees, and even rain, unless the hardware send/receive equipment is very close together.
I can’t think of anyone in Cape Ann who would be excited to see a whole lot more cell phone style towers spread all over our roads, neighborhoods, beaches or forests. I think that’s probably the reaction of most people around the world. Therefore, all of today’s communications companies are rushing to adapt their existing technology and install new tech sparingly, in order to offer the highest speeds they can while spending the least they can on infrastructure changes. It’s an incredibly complicated and time-sensitive technical conundrum for these businesses to balance because they know that whatever they invest in and build will be supplanted by the next technology development only a short time away.
Setting aside the infrastructure challenge for a minute, all that high-speed access will also bring along with it new challenges for our culture. Those kinds of data speeds will make it easy for the "internet of things" to proliferate at explosion speeds. Self-driving car technologies, non-human delivery mechanisms, all sorts of environmental sensors, new security technologies, tracking technologies…the list of things surrounding us that will create data, analyze data, and act on data, will explode. Humans won’t be able to keep up with all that data, which means Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technologies will also proliferate along with the huge piles of data being created.
What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, of course.
As the saying goes, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. 5G (and 6G and 7G…) are coming to the gadget in your pocket, on your desk, in your living room, at the store, around town, and definitely in your car. There will be a multitude of amazing, great things that will come from this next wave of technology evolution, but as with all new powers, some will use their powers for evil instead of good. Therefore, a great thing to do with all that speedy new bandwidth coming your way is to spend a little time in the old fashioned pursuit of reading about these technologies so you can understand what you are bringing into your homes, what we can logically demand of our governments in regulation, and learn enough to think critically about the new choices 5G technologies will make available to you and your family.