Even if you’re a daily smartphone user, you might not have heard that the big carriers are launching next-generation “5G” cellular networks this year, or that the last two months have been packed with 5G and 4.5G news. I cover these topics for VentureBeat, and as we’re less than two weeks away from the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, this struck me as the right time to provide a big picture explanation of what you can expect over the next year or two.
Why should you care about 5G?
One year from now, your smartphone is going to get faster in one of three ways: You’re either going to upgrade to a 5G phone, upgrade to a 4.5G phone, or keep using a 4G phone on a network shared with fewer users. If you buy a 5G phone, expect peak speeds nearing 5 Gigabits per second — enough to download a 4K movie in under four minutes — versus 1-2Gbps on newly purchased 4.5G phones, and 0.1Gbps on current 4G phones, the latter only because old 4G networks will free up and get faster as people switch to 5G phones.
But 5G is about a lot more than phones. In the foreseeable future, your car will have its own 5G connection, both to provide entertainment and to communicate with local traffic systems. Your workplace will have 5G to let remote operators and computers control as many functions as possible.