The 5G rollout is ongoing, but the full implications of that are not yet clear. While experts believe it will hasten the fourth Industrial Revolution, as well as the widespread use of autonomous vehicles and the emergence of smart cities, those developments are still to come.
The more immediate impact will be felt on our smartphones, and to that end several 5G phones have been produced in recent years, and, which is more, they are coming down in price, owing to the fact that semiconductors have grown less expensive than in the recent past. 5G’s speed – it is up to 100 times faster than 4G – will in time combine with its reduced latency to make for better gaming, an enhanced video experience and more innovative apps.
Other 5G consumer devices that have begun to emerge are wireless routers, notably those produced by Samsung in collaboration with Verizon Communications. They will make it possible to have a broadband connection in one’s home, and accelerate the trend toward cord-cutting.
Also increasingly available are 5G laptops, like the ones developed by Lenovo and Samsung.
Further developments no doubt lie ahead, as 5G coverage improves. While the three major U.S. wireless providers – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – all claim they provide nationwide coverage, the truth is somewhat more nuanced.
As of December 2021, 49.2 percent of Americans with 5G devices were connected to the network most of the time, according to analysis by the network testing company Ookla. That’s the best percentage in the world, ahead of The Netherlands (45.1) and South Korea (43.8).
Ookla concluded, however, that in terms of speed the U.S. lagged behind 10 other nations that were early adopters of 5G, at 93.73 megabits per second (mbps). The leaders in that category were South Korea (492), Norway (427) and the United Arab Emirates (410).
The conclusion that can be reached, then, is that not all 5G is created equal – that while T-Mobile continues to provide greater coverage than that of its two rivals, closer examination is required.
As noted on the website CNet.com, there are different versions of 5G – millimeter-wave (mmWave), which offers greater speed but less reliable coverage than other types; low band, which is slower but more reliable; and midband (C-Band), which is faster than low band but more reliable than mmWave.
To date T-Mobile covers 41 percent of the U.S., while AT&T covers 18 percent and Verizon 11 percent. T-Mobile’s coverage is largely of the midband variety, while the other two companies offer low band, with promises of upgrades to midband this year, after investing some $68.8 billion in it during the FCC’s auction in late 2021.
As 5G continues to evolve in the U.S., so too will the consumer market. More devices will be developed, devices that will, for example, allow people to more fully explore things like augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D video experiences. In short, 5G looms as a game-changer, but we’re still in the very early stages of the game. Things have yet to play out fully.
While 4G technology made possible high-speed mobile browsing and wearable connectivity, 5G promises that those wearables will become even more prominent, smaller, and more efficient. That goes for ones already in existence, like smartwatches and health trackers, and those still on the drawing board (like, believe it or not, tattooables).
How that happens comes down to 5G’s accessibility to the cloud, its lower latency, and its speed, which can theoretically be 100 times faster than 4G.
Real-time data transfer will now be possible, and some experts believe that in the not-too-distant future, virtually everything we wear (clothing, shoes, contact lenses, even sensors placed under the skin to track health data) will transform us into walking, talking connected devices.
Certainly skeptics remain, but Fortune cites International Data Corporation projections indicating that wearable sales will reach $49.4 billion this year, and soar to $69.8 billion by 2024. Sanyogita Shamsunder, Verizon’s vice president of 5G Labs and Innovation, told Fortune that ‘2024 will in fact serve as an “inflection point,” as that will be the year that medical sensors will become commonplace.
Already available, Fortune notes, are smart glasses, smart earbuds (a.k.a. “hearables”) and yoga pants that make those wearing them aware if their yoga technique leaves something to be desired.
And those tattooables? While still in development, they are expected to be constructed of wafer-thin electric mesh, according to Fortune, which will enable them to store data and do things like deliver drugs.
The reason wearables are expected to shrink in size, according to TechRadar, is that they will no longer need physical space to store data; 5G can simply zip data right to the cloud. Instead, wearables of the near future will consist of ultrathin sensors, and little else.
An increase in sensors and a decrease in size is precisely what will cement wearables as part of the Internet of Things. Until now, we’ve mostly thought of wearables as items such as smartwatches that the user wears on their wrist. But these sensor-packed devices could just as easily be connected to objects rather than people to read and process data in real-time.
Consumers may also be happy to know that relieving some of the processor’s job means that a device’s battery will be more efficient. The ability to charge wirelessly within a wider range — up to 30 cm away — will allow devices to charge without cables or docks, even when in use.
All of this will take time, however. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have all begun rolling out 5G, but it will be years before most of the country, let alone the world, has coverage. Then, manufacturers must create devices that harness the power of 5G.
In addition, there are privacy concerns about sensitive personal data being widely circulated, location data being easily accessible, and even foreign manufacturing threatening national security.
Such matters give one pause, to be sure. But for now, it’s full speed ahead for 5G, at 100 times the pace of the existing technology. While there are potential hurdles, there are also vast possibilities that make 5G’s future look extremely promising.