5G: The Long-Term Evolution of Cellular Broadband

Andrew Gu '23

4G was the technology hot topic of 2009, the newly minted fourth generation of broadband cellular network technology and 500 times faster than its predecessor, 3G, to boot. Now, a similar shift is occurring, as 5G begins to replace 4G, boasting 100 times the speed. In 2020, it is expected that “20 billion connected devices…will require a connection with great capacity. This is where 5G comes into force” [1]. 



In the telecommunications industry, latency is the amount of time between when the information is sent from a user and the receiver can use that information on their device. With 5G, the period of latency will be much reduced, and people will be able to use their devices at a greater capacity, thanks to the capacity of 5G. 5G will enable the widespread use of products such as driverless cars, downloading 4k movies instantly on phones.



Cell service companies such as Verizon and T-Mobile are leading the race to develop the fastest and most reliable 5G service. In addition to millions or billions of dollars in making the broadband connection practical and widespread, new phones that will be able to handle the speeds of 5G must be developed. 



T-Mobile has decided to use low-band frequencies, which use longer wavelengths to maximize the range of the connection, instead of high-band frequencies, which use shorter wavelengths to get a faster connection, to build its network because “Those signals cover much wider areas and are better at traveling through walls and trees, but ‘low-band spectrum’ doesn’t provide the dramatic benefits we think of when we think of 5G.” [2] This challenge is one to which companies must develop a solution, an endeavor that will delay the promised rollout of 5G. 



Limitations of high-band 5G include not being able to travel very far, and not being able to travel through walls easily. Thus, companies have to find a happy medium between the use of low and high-band frequencies to achieve the highest speeds for one area, this challenge is causing them to build towers city by city. They are starting with big cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, etc. because the close proximity allows them to use high band frequencies and achieve the fast speeds that they promised.



The transition from 4G to 5G will happen eventually as this novel technology develops further. Companies such as Verizon, T-Mobile will have to develop the perfect mixture of high and low-band towers in cities and consumers will need to buy phones capable of handling 5G speeds. Just like the transition from 3G to 4G, after everyone adapts to the change, it will be very widespread. Hopefully, in another 10 years, we can look forward to the development of 6G.