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5G: What It Means for You
By   Shlomo Maital
     Cell phone users are mainly uninterested in the technologies that drive their smartphones.  Today’s technology is 4G (4th generation), and it began as LTE Long Term Evolution, which was the term used to describe how 3G (3rd generation technology) would evolve into 4th generation.   When your cell phone shows 4G, mostly, it is not really using 4G yet.    However, 5G is already on the way.
    But what is 5G (5th Generation)?  What will it do for us?
    “We think that 5G will have an impact far beyond 3G,” said Ben Timmons, Senior Director, Business Development of Qualcomm Europe. “It’s not going to be about personal communication anymore. It’s much more of a transformational technology that will have a huge impact on an enormous range of industries.”   Qualcomm of course is a major developer of 5G.   But – is this all commercial hype?
       Analysts at HIS Markit note, “Qualcomm is one of the main players in the development and deployment of the technology.  …. the American semiconductor giant has already successfully completed pre-commercial 5G  trials.”  Recently US regulators turned down an attempt by Broadcom to acquire Qualcomm.
      5G is really REALLY fast.  How fast is 5G?   “Samsung says it’s managed to achieve 7.5Gbps, while Nokia claims a more impressive 10Gbps. There’s also Huawei, which has managed 3.6Gbps.” In contrast:  4G at present runs between 5 and 12 Mbps (Megabits per second).  So 5G may be up to a thousand times faster. 
      What will this speed mean?   First – downloading / streaming will be really fast and easy, boosting this content immensely.  Second,  latency.  Latency is the ‘lag’ between, say, requesting a search and getting the answer.  It is now very short,  several hundred milliseconds.  But this is significant, especially when 5G is being used to transmit traffic information to self-driven vehicles.     5G will reduce latency lag to a few milliseconds.  And that difference is huge!
     The transition to autonomous vehicles will take years. Meanwhile, 5G can help cities significantly improve traffic management and traffic flow for self-driven vehicles.  Once 5G is in place,  machine learning and deep learning can use data from individual vehicles to alert drivers, first responders, redesign accident-prone road stretches, and in general make city driving safer and smoother.  However, the lethal mixture of autonomous and self-driven cars during the transition to autonomy will need careful management.   
     You will need a new smartphone that enables you to use 5G.  But don’t buy one just yet.   5G will be implemented during 2019 by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and others.  But you won’t benefit from the full lightning 5G speed until the American mobile carries upgrade all their key central switching equipment,  perhaps late in 2019 or early 2020. 
       According to Don Clark, who writes the Personal Tech column in the New York Times,* most Americans have never heard of 5G and are unaware of what it does.  This is absolutely fine.  The best technology is the kind that, like sci fi writer Arthur Clark once said, seems like invisible magic.
      Note that China is a major player in 5G.  The Economist worries that carriers who buy 5G network technology from China’s Huawei  may leave the network vulnerable to prying eyes (spying).   This is just another instance of the growing technology war between the US and China. 
• “What 5G will mean when it arrives this year’.  NYT  Wed. Jan 2, 2019.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
January 2019
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