The WIRED Guide to 5G

 
 
 
The future depends on connectivity. From artificial intelligence and self-driving cars to telemedicine and mixed reality to as yet undreamt technologies, all the things we hope will make our lives easier, safer, and healthier will require high-speed, always-on internet connections.
 

The WIRED Guide to 5G
Wired.com, December 13, 2018
By Klint Finley

To keep up with the explosion of new connected gadgets and vehicles, not to mention the deluge of streaming video, the mobile industry is working on something called 5G—so named because it's the fifth generation of wireless networking technology.

The promise is that 5G will bring speeds of around 10 gigabits per second to your phone. That's more than 600 times faster than the typical 4G speeds on today’s mobile phones, and 10 times faster than Google Fiber's standard home broadband service—fast enough to download a 4K high-definition movie in 25 seconds, or to stream several at the same time.

Eventually anyway. US carriers promise that 5G will be available nationwide by 2020, but the first 5G networks won't be nearly so fast. 5G isn't a single technology or standard, but rather a constellation of different technologies, and deploying them could require a radically different approach than building 4G networks. Carriers have launched demos and pilot programs that demonstrate big leaps in wireless performance, but mobile networks based on the “millimeter wave” technology that may deliver the fastest speeds probably won't be widely available for years.

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GLOSSARY from Wired.com

  • The Spectrum
    All radio wave frequencies, from the lowest frequencies (3 kHz) to the highest (300 GHz). The FCC regulates who can use which ranges, or bands, of frequencies to prevent users from interfering with each other’s signals.

  • Low-Band Frequencies
    Bands below 1 GHz traditionally used by broadcast radio and television as well as mobile networks; they easily cover large distances and travel through walls, but those are now so crowded that carriers are turning to the higher range of the spectrum.

  • Mid-Band Spectrum
    The range of the wireless spectrum from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, used by Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile networks, and many other applications. It's attractive to carriers because it offers lots of bandwidth while presenting fewer challenges than the millimeter wave range of the spectrum. The catch is that the FCC needs to open more of this spectrum to carriers.

  • Millimeter Wave
    The range of the wireless spectrum above either 24 GHz or 30 GHz, depending on whom you ask. There’s plenty of bandwidth on this relatively uncrowded chunk of the spectrum, which means carriers can achieve much faster speeds. But millimeter wave signals are less reliable at long distances.

  • Unlicensed Spectrum
    Spectrum not licensed to a particular carrier, such as the ranges now used for home Wi-Fi. Carriers plan to augment their licensed spectrum with service delivered over unlicensed bands.

  • Latency
    How long it takes a device to respond to other devices over a network. Faster response time is a big promise of 5G, which could be critical for things like emergency alert systems or self-driving cars.

  • Network Slicing
    The practice of creating "virtual networks" on one carrier’s infrastructure, each with different properties. For example, cars may connect to a virtual network that makes minimizing latency a priority, while smartphones may connect to a network optimized for streaming video.

  • Flexible Numerology
    The ability to assign smaller amounts of bandwidth to devices that don't need much, such as sensors. It's not related to the idea that numbers possess mystical meanings, but it can sound similarly arcane.

 

Learn More from Wired.com

  • The Next Generation of Wireless — “5G” — Is All Hype
    A deep dive on the limitations of the millimeter wave spectrum and why we need more fiber in the ground to power the 5G future.

  • Does It Matter If China Beats the US to Build a 5G Network?
    Apple and Google dominate the smartphone landscape despite Europe beating the US to 2G and Japan beating the US to 3G. So why does it matter if China gets to 5G first? It has a lot to do with China's size, and the amount of data that can be harvested from 5G devices.

  • Fear of China Scuttles Deal That Didn't Involve China
    How scared are US leaders of falling behind China? Scared enough that the Trump administration blocked Singapore-based chipmaker Broadcom from acquiring US chipmaker Qualcomm, out of concerns that the combined company wouldn’t invest enough to compete with Chinese companies like Huawei in the wireless chip market.

  • Why America Needs a Nationalized 5G Network
    In early 2018, a leaked National Security Council document suggested that the US government set up a nationalized 5G network. Leaders across the political spectrum panned the idea, but a government-backed buildout of the fiber optic networks necessary for both 5G and broadband networks just might be a good idea.

  • Facebook's Massive New Antennas Can Beam Internet for Miles
    You probably heard about Facebook's wild plans to build drones, satellites, and lasers to blanket the world in wireless internet connectivity. But Facebook doesn't want to be a telco. Instead, it's working with carriers and networking gear makers to create the technology that will make 5G a reality.

  • After Slurping Up AI Researchers, Facebook Offers to Share
    The data generated by 5G networks could help train the next generation of AI applications. But AI is also useful in building 5G networks in the first place. The problem for carriers, though, is that much of the world's AI talent works for tech giants. Facebook is trying to help by open sourcing its AI know-how.