Have you heard of 5G? It’s supposed to be the future. It’s going to make it easy to transmit massive amounts of data super quickly. That will apparently enable things like robotic telemedicine, immersive VR, self-driving cars, and myriad other buzzwordy activities.
And it’s coming soon. It’s totally just around the corner. Like, tomorrow. Just you wait!
This has pretty much been how every article describing 5G has played out since the term, meant to connote the next generation of wireless connectivity technology, was first floated years ago. These were all theoretical ideas, though, as the standards of what would constitute 5G technology hadn’t been agreed upon (and technically probably won’t be until 2020). But things are different now—for real.
Recently, concrete deadlines have been put in place—the telecom companies, phone manufacturers, and government officials working to standardize 5G will be meeting over the next year to finalize the standards. (That would be download speeds of up to 20 Gbps, though more likely around 100 Mbps on a crowded cell connection.)
Before then, companies are expected to ship the first smartphones compatible with 5G technology. And the first 5G-ready networks will be set up by carriers in US cities by the end of 2018. Chinese phone manufacturer OnePlus said it plans to release a 5G phone in 2019 (that is likely to cost more than its usually affordable phones, given the new technology). Samsung is expecting to have a couple ready in the year. While Apple is reportedly waiting until 2020 to dip its toes into the 5G world (it tends to wait until technology is mature before jumping in), it’s likely that many phone makers will follow Samsung’s lead next year. Expect a fair amount of practical discussion about implementing 5G networks and phones at the industry’s premier connectivity conference, Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, in February.
Already, the marketing bluster has begun. In the US, Verizon claimed to have launched the country’s first 5G network in October. As The Verge notes, it was based on an earlier version of the 5G standard, rather than the one everyone is now working towards building. (AT&T’s service, which is based on the current version of the standard, is expected to launch before the end of the year.)
So it’s likely that if you live in a specific city, have cash to burn, and are on the right network, you will be able to surf the web on a 5G phone, on a 5G network, in 2019. But it’s likely that for everyone else, 2020 is looking to be the year when there will be far more phones, with networks in more areas, for you to start testing out 5G.