5G: What It Is and Why (and Why Not) It’s Worth Your Time

A man sitting on the grass connected to his computer and playing games. Satire.

The system cell phones use to transmit data is about to get a major upgrade.

You may have already heard of this new 5G technology, especially if you’ve seen any recent advertisements for a big cell phone network, but what is it exactly? 

What is 5G?

5G stands for fifth generation. It is a new system of cellular network technology that will greatly increase speed and capacity for transmitting data. This will be the fifth time cellular data technology has been fundamentally restructured.

It is still in early stages, but the network is moving forward quickly.

You may remember when 3G technology was upgraded to 4G about a decade ago. Since cellular network technology was first introduced, these major updates have occurred roughly every ten years. As we are nearing the year 2020, we are just about due for a new system.

Each new generation of cellular data technology has introduced faster speeds and greater capabilities, but this will be the largest increase in ability to date. 5G can support about 1.5 million devices per square mile while 4G can only support about 150,000. The speed of 5G data will be much faster as well. 

While 4G technology was able to support the rise of the smartphone era, 5G tech is expected to support what people are referring to as “Internet of Things.” The “Internet of Things” refers to the use of the Internet by regular objects. 

Smart homes are an example of how the “Internet of Things” is already in place. In a smart home, objects such as the speaker system, thermostat, alarm clock, and security system operate by connecting to the Internet.

 As the “Internet of Things” advances, it will not only be objects in homes operating through the internet, but also objects throughout a city will be connected through cellular data. Every traffic light, billboard, and street lamp will have capabilities to connect to the Internet. As you can imagine, this will take a lot of data. 5G is expected to provide that. 

What are the Pros of 5G?

If you’re wondering what there is to be excited about as 5G technology arrives, hare are some of the most exciting possibilities provided by the new technology:

Faster Speeds

5G technology is able to transmit data up to 100 times faster than 4G.

This means you can download huge files almost instantaneously. Latency, which is the time between when a message is sent and when your device receives it, will be drop to close to zero seconds. No more waiting around for files to send. Your files should arrive before you even have time to check. 

These speeds will also allow for watching high-definition videos without any buffering or lag. The gaming community is excited for the fast speeds, as video games require fast reaction times. The business community also relies on speedy transmissions for important virtual meetings and remote work.

In certain circumstances, 5G could even render Wi-Fi obsolete. If cellular data is able to do anything Wi-Fi can do, some people may choose to simplify and eliminate their Wi-Fi coverage. 

Currently, the price tag for using immense amounts of data without Wi-Fi can be rather high, but if you pay for a 5G coverage plan for your phone, it will likely have enough capability to support your whole house. 

Greater Bandwidth

The bandwidth capabilities of a 5G network are immense. Currently 4G can support about 150,000 devices per square mile. 5G is able to support up to ten times that many without slowing down at all. 

The bandwidth ability will be the main factor that allows for the advent of the “Internet of Things.” Not only can every person have multiple devices that connect to the Internet, every object should be able to connect to the Internet as well. If you feel like we live in a highly connected world already, it does not compare to the future possibilities with a 5G network. 

Possibilities for New Technology

The possibilities for new technology with a 5G network are so vast, there are likely things that will become available that we cannot even imagine yet. The most likely technology advancement will be self-driving cars. 

While self-driving cars are already available, they are not quite commonplace yet. Self-driving cars use cellular data to function. They need to know when there is an object in the road, when there is a sudden slow down, and when to stop for pedestrians.

All of these things need to be communicated at very high speeds or life-threatening accidents could occur. It is imperative that even if there are a large number of self-driving cars on the road using data, the speed of the data cannot have a lag. 5G technology will be able to operate at these speeds. 

Self-driving cars aren’t the only new tech to watch for as we move towards a 5G network. Most electronic objects will likely be converted into “smart” objects. This will allow for easier control and automation of things like traffic lights and systems, among other things. 

What are the Cons of 5G?

On the other hand, you might be wondering if there are any downsides to the new cellular data system. These are some of the issues people are worried about as 5G becomes more commonplace:

Decreased Coverage

Each new generation of cellular networks has increased bandwidth.

Unfortunately, the increase in bandwidth leads to a decrease in distance reached by individual cell towers. 3G was able to cover vast distances with fewer cell towers, but only while offering a very small amount of bandwidth. The move toward 4G required more cell towers to allow for greater bandwidth. 

5G, being the largest jump in bandwidth to date, will not be able to cover nearly as much territory with the same amount of cell towers as 3G and 4G. As 5G is being implemented, coverage will likely not be as widespread. 

Rural areas are likely to be most affected by the decrease in coverage. New cell towers must be built, and urban areas with high-density populations are likely to be the priority. Hopefully, as 5G becomes more commonplace, cell towers will be placed in all inhabited areas. 

Security Issues

5G technology has the possibility of increasing the use of the Internet, but this brings with it a heightened vulnerability to Internet crime. 

As our society has put more and more information online, the possibility for crime has increased. Data breaches are not uncommon and they can vary in severity. When credit company, Equifax, had a data breach in 2017, millions of people’s highly sensitive personal information was exposed.

Additionally, many people store their credit card information in multiple places online, simply to speed up the process of online shopping or ordering food to be delivered to your house.

Most websites do everything they can to protect your information from thieves, however, as seen in the Equifax data breach, there is still the possibility that security measures in place will not be sufficient. You may want to consider identity theft protection services.

It is expected 5G technology will increase our society’s use of the Internet and create more avenues for Internet crime. If personal information is stored in more places, security measures will need to be heightened to ensure people are safe from crime. 

Privacy Concerns

Invasion of privacy is very popular theme in numerous science-fiction stories. In these stories, technology is used to track people’s every move. Could this be a very real possibility in our future, though?

Currently, most things you do on the Internet are tracked. Companies analyze your behavior on the Internet and use the information for advertising or research and development. If 5G technology allows the “Internet of Things,” it may be more than just your Google searches being tracked.

If every object around you has the capability to connect to the Internet, meaning the “Internet of Things” has become our way of life, your every move could potentially be observed and analyzed. Hypothetically, each time you glance in a store window, a team of data analysts could be analyzing that action and using it to create advertisements directly targeted at you. 

Privacy concerns were raised earlier this year when people realized smart speakers inside their homes were recording every word they were saying. If smart speakers are put in place throughout cities, there will be little room for privacy. Read our article on how to prevent smart speakers from recording your conversations and our article on how to secure your IoT devices.

So is it Worth It?

Every time a new technology is invented it comes with disadvantages that lead us to wonder if it is worth it. In the end, though, new problems inspire people to come up with creative new solutions. Perhaps we will have breakthrough new technology to protect our privacy and security. 
As we have seen with each new invention throughout the history of humans, it is hard to stop human advancement. As always, if you are having any kind of difficulty understanding, using or benefitting from 5G, please consider reaching out to HelpCloud Technicians for remote support.

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Erik Fullmer

Director of Marketing

Photo of Erik Fullmer

Erik was raised in many places in a military family but has long since called Utah home. He spends free time in his garden, in the mountains with his dog, and skis…a lot. He is actively earning the necessary certifications and training to become a certified winter mountain guide.

Erik graduated from Utah Valley University in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in Behavioral Science and a minor in Spanish. Additionally, being raised by a German mother, he spent a part of his childhood and also the beginning of his professional career in Germany where he worked as a Digital Strategist for adesta, a locally owned business in Darmstadt. Speaking three languages has opened up the world to him and influences the breadth of topics covered in his articles. He has always held an affinity for the world wide web and its workings, development, history and future.

Being a key player in the development of, and Director of Marketing for HelpCloud, he takes the content displayed and utilized on HelpCloud extremely seriously.