5G is the fifth generation of the mobile communications network to succeed 4G, the most widely used network in the West today.
Each previous generation has acted as a small technological revolution by allowing the democratization of often new technologies for the general public. The first generation paved the way for the very first cell phones, which looked more like bricks than our smartphones today. The second generation popularized text messages, while the third generation finally allowed us to browse the Internet without sitting at a computer. 4G was the generation of streaming content. It has allowed Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and many others to establish themselves firmly in the market.
5G promises to be the generation of the Internet of Things, the cloud, autonomous cars and connected industrial robots, among others.
How is 5G different from 4G?
The new 5G network will come with two major improvements. First, it will be much faster. Sources disagree on exact numbers, but the most conservative speak of 1.4 GB per second speed at the start, possibly peaking at 4.5 GB per second, which would be 20 times faster than 4G. Some even suggest a speed of 10 to 20 GB per second.
The second improvement is also about speed, but this time it’s about latency. On the current 4G network, there is a delay of 50 milliseconds to several hundred milliseconds between the time when an order is sent on the network and when this order ends up on the targeted server.
For example, if you enter the address of Scientific Origin in your browser, it can take almost a second between the time you press the button and the time the servers receive your request. This delay, known as latency, will be considerably reduced with the advent of 5G and may even be as short as a few milliseconds.
How will 5G affect the common folks?
This combination of high speed and low latency will pave the way for many emerging technologies. All devices whose function is to move and therefore could not connect to a robust wired network, such as cars, warehouse robots and connected health devices will therefore benefit from this network update.
Virtual reality, which is struggling to find its place in the current ecosystem due in particular to the high costs associated with hardware, could also benefit. Powerful servers owned by companies like Microsoft and Amazon could perform the calculations required to generate three-dimensional images and send the results almost instantly to users. Virtual reality headsets would therefore become wireless and might even get lighter.
In everyday life, we can possibly expect to say goodbye to the need for wired connections at home. The power and speed of the 5G network could effectively pave the way for efficient wireless Internet connection at home for any and all sorts of tasks.
More concretely, we will be able to download a movie in less than 20 seconds on 5G, while the same operation takes about 6 minutes on 4G.
Is 5G safe?
To operate at its full potential, 5G must eventually use millimeter waves. These very high frequency communications allow transfer speeds by air unequaled until now, but they have a major defect: they do not travel very far.
To ensure adequate coverage at the best possible speed, telecommunication companies will therefore have to multiply their antennas. This will fill the ambient air with invisible waves, the effects of which are still largely unknown.
As Agostino Di Ciaula notes in a scientific article in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, radio frequencies and electromagnetic fields (RF-CEM) have been shown to have harmful effects on health. “RF-CEM promotes oxidative stress, a condition that could cause cancer or acute and chronic diseases,” writes Dr. Di Ciaula. Although some evidence is still controversial, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified RF-CEM as “possible human carcinogens”. “
Very few studies exist on millimeter waves which will be used by the 5G network. Dr. Di Ciaula notes, however, that preliminary observations tend to show that these waves “increase the temperature of the skin; modify gene expression; promote cell proliferation and protein synthesis linked to oxidative stress, inflammatory and metabolic processes, and could generate eye damage and affect neuromuscular dynamics “.
Despite insufficient evidence to conclude on the dangers of 5G, this expert believes that enough information exists so that one should be very careful with this technology.
However, other researches have also shown 5G to be harmless.
When will we have access to it?
5G is currently on everyone’s lips and many observers expect to see the first phones compatible with this technology this year. This does not mean that the network itself will be ready. A few small, isolated 5G networks have already been set up in different cities to test the technology, but they have nothing to do with the large-scale network that will see the light of day in the coming years.
Most optimistic experts believe that 5G could be accessed by the end of the year in some important markets, such as the United States and China. Most experts agree, however, that the 5G network should really take off between 2019 and the beginning of 2021, at the latest.