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5G: What Does it Mean for Our Connected Lives?

It’s that time again. Just as we’ve got used to widely-available 4G mobile service, the next generation is gearing up for action. The FCC has given the go ahead for 5G spectrums, with some networks forecasting their first 5G readiness by 2017. Among investors and developers, enthusiasm for 5G is building - but what can consumers expect? How will 5G differ from 4G? 

The primary expectation will be for faster connectivity. New innovations like ultra high definition video, self-driving vehicles and augmented reality will also be better represented by the new networks. ‘The Internet of Things’ will come of age as reliable, speedy web access ceases to be an obstacle.  

On the technical side, this leap forward is enabled by the use of multiple radio access technologies, including ‘millimeter wave’ frequencies (above 24GHz) which were, until recently, considered unsuitable for mobile applications. Allied with the lower-band spectrum already used by 4G LTE networks, these frequencies promise to deliver top data speeds in excess of 10 gigabits per second - ten times the fastest speeds currently delivered on fixed, fiber optic networks. Small wonder that developers of real-time augmented reality applications and high definition video concepts are starting to drool at the prospect of 5G.

Different markets describe 5G in different ways. But there is a broad consensus that it will function as an infrastructure for the Internet of Things, turning a lot of extant dreams into reality.

Eric Starkloff, a marketing executive for National Insights who is collaborating with Nokia on 5G research, was quoted by Fast Company on the subject:  

"Everyone has a bit of a different definition of what 5G is. But it’s the next iteration of cellular standards, with a goal of a 50 times faster data rate than the most advanced Wi-Fi networks today. To give an example, the expectation is that a 5G network can stream a two-hour movie in less than three seconds.”

Bear in mind, we’re a few years away from the full roll-out, and the technology and standards are still being developed. Multiple international bodies are involved in turning 5G into a reality, and one of their chief concerns is ‘spectrum harmonization’ - the plan to designate the same frequencies to the same uses worldwide. The lack of 4G spectrum harmonization is regarded as one of its main pitfalls, giving users a vastly different (ie slower) experience, depending on where they are in the world. With 5G, global harmonization and standardized networking practices will make it possible to achieve the economies of scale necessary to keep prices low.


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