Patrolling the congested halls of Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, you couldn’t help but run into some sign of “5G,” the full-throttle Internet aspirations for smartphone manufacturers, chipmakers, network operators, and government regulators.
But what precisely is 5G and when will it impact our everyday lives? The quick takeaway is that 5G, or the next generation of mobile technology, is all about blistering speeds on the smartphones in our pockets. But it’s also technology likely to have a broad bearing on society at large, touching everything from remote medicine to the Internet of Things.
“What can a consumer do with more bandwidth and lower latency?”
“These are the kind of disruptions that happen once in a decade,” says Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president for Android, Chrome OS & Play at Google.
“Today no one ever questions why 4G should exist. Even if it’s just Gmail, or browsing the Web, you want to use 4G to do it. And I think that’s how it’s going to be with 5G. It’s faster, lower latency—why wouldn’t you want that?”
When it arrives
Despite early trials such as Verizon’s plan to launch 5G in 11 pilot U.S. markets mid-year, much of the infrastructure is still being built out, and the industry standards and technical specifications that ultimately define 5G have yet to be hammered out. Security must be baked in.
5G becomes real for the average person toward the end of the decade, or when the first devices start to roll out: fixed hotspots in the 2019 timeframe, smartphones a year later, says Glenn Laxdal, who heads networking products for Ericsson in North America.
Ericsson predicts that in North America about a third of the smartphone base, some 100 million subscribers, will be 5G-enabled by 2022. Globally, about 500 million subscribers will have 5G-capable smartphones.
The GMSA, the organization that puts on the annual mobile industry conference called Mobile World Congress, forecasts that commercial 5G networks will provide coverage to a third of the world’s population by 2025. 5G connections are forecast to reach 1.1 billion by that year, or about one in eight mobile connections worldwide at that time.