5G is poised to disrupt nearly every industry, yet a low percentage of businesses actually know what it is.

It is nearly impossible to attend a tech-related trade show or conference and not be overwhelmed with messages touting the promise of 5G connectivity. 

Indeed, the use cases associated with 5G — both those known and still to be developed — are exciting. But even as awareness of 5G grows, a surprisingly low percentage of businesses actually know what 5G is and what it can do for them on a practical level.  

Research from Barclays PLC suggests few decision makers are allocating significant resources in order to take advantage of 5G’s imminent roll-out. It’s logical for businesses to take a cautious approach. But waiting too long will likely have an adverse effect that leaves risk-averse business owners behind as early adopters realize the benefits and cash in. 

Perhaps the general lack of understanding regarding 5G — and other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi or Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) — has something to do with that. 

The 10,000-foot view of 5G 

Given the volume of marketing fluff swirling around 5G, it’s no wonder most consumers have inflated expectations of what is coming and when.  

Despite the designations many see on their mobile phones these days, there exists just one client device that can utilize 5G today — the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.  

AT&T remains as the only carrier providing 5G connectivity albeit in select cities. Verizon’s 5G service is expected to roll out in coming months, also to select cities. 

What is 5g? It is the latest generation of cellular mobile communications. We emphasize cellular in this definition as 5G is a licensed spectrum advancement, meaning it is designated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and can be used all wireless communications providers to use. 

Licensing is important as it helps keep wireless operators’ networks free of interference from other networks. Unlicensed networks, in contrast, don’t require permission and can be accessed by anyone but are more apt to being disrupted by other networks.  

When will 5G be here? The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an industry group tasked with establishing 5G standards, is in the middle of phase two of Release 16, which builds upon Release 15 in developing specifications of 5G networks. 

The 3GPP is expected to complete this phase in March 2020. Regardless, commercial 5G rollouts continue to target deployments by the end of 2019 or shortly thereafter. 

Who will leverage 5G? No doubt 5G connectivity has widespread appeal that could reach into nearly every facet of the economy. But stop short of thinking 5G will slice your bread and butter your toast. 

There just isn’t enough spectrum available in 5G to achieve speeds comparable to gigabit Wi-Fi. Therefore, use cases will have to wait in line. But moving forward, 5G is expected to propel industries ranging from gaming and streaming to healthcare and agriculture. 

Lest we forget: Latency 

5G is not simply a matter of increased speed. Lower latency, too, remains a critical piece of the value proposition and is the main enabler of the expected explosion of connected devices that tap into the network.  

To achieve the required response time between device and network, operators are pushing compute to the edge of the network so that it’s closer to the end customer or consumer. Lower latency will enable the first wave of 5G use cases such as autonomous carsSmart Cities, Smart Grids and Computer Vision — camera surveillance systems that can detect anomalies such as presence of heat or chemicals, or unexpected movement. 

Not all wireless tech is the same 

As important as defining what 5G is, is what it is not.  

5G is not replacing Wi-Fi by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not even replacing 4G, for that matter.  

Understanding the difference between 5G, Wi-Fi and other licensed spectrums, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) is important, too. 

Here’s a handy synopsis:  

  • 5G is licensed spectrum that exists for cell phone providers to charge for accessibility. It will operate from 600 MHz to 6 GHz in the millimeter wave band for close or nearby high-speed communications. 5G is being touted as the equivalent to gigabit Wi-Fi, but real world speeds are likely to be less than Gigabit speeds 
  • Unlicensed Spectrum Wi-Fi is what we know to be the standard Wi-Fi you find at your neighborhood coffee shop that operates on the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands.  
  • Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) is a licensed spectrum and serves as a way to get cellular coverage indoors and on multiple stories. The signal enters a building from a base station through a carrier feed and disperses throughout the covered floors.