Fifth-generation wireless, aka 5G, is on its way from theoretical to almost reality, now that engineers have finalized the technical standards for a major part of it. That means companies like Intel, Qualcomm, and Samsung can start mass-producing the chips that will power faster cellular connections in phones by 2019 and a host of other devices, such cars and drones, in the following years.
How much faster will it be? Possibly up to 5 gigabits per second download—beating the best smartphones today, which peak around a still-impressive 1Gbps. For reference, the average wired home broadband speed in the U.S. is just 0.064Gbps. That hints at a near future in which you’re not stuck with the one or two (or zero) home and office broadband providers in your neighborhood. 5G has another kind of speed boost: The delay, or latency from when you request data like a web page to when you get something back, could be as little as 1 millisecond—10 times faster than today’s 4G.
Those are best-case scenarios, and it will still take a while to see what 5G services end up looking like. Wireless providers and equipment makers will spend the next year continuing limited trials in parts of cities—as small as a shopping center or a few apartment buildings.
5G services will initially run on top of 4G networks. The fast radio connection between devices and cell towers will be pure 5G. That’s the component that has just been finalized. But all the technology behind the towers—the routing, the divvying of bandwidth—will use current technologies that don’t…