The Road To 5G: A Realistic Look
In an increasingly mobile world where everybody is glued to their smartphones and tablet devices surfing the Internet, browsing social media, watching videos or listening to streamed music, the need for a faster, better cellular network is as high as ever. But the truth of the matter is, building an improved cellular network often takes some time.
Take 5G for instance -- there has been some talk about 5G this year, and there is sure to be more next year. Theoretically speaking, a 5G network is capable of such outstanding connection speeds that you could probably download the latest Star Wars movie in just a matter of seconds (with 4G, it takes minutes to do that).
Even though wireless carriers are already working on a commercially viable model for a 5G service, it may take a while before mobile users can actually have 5G speeds on their handsets. As a matter of fact, the biggest wireless carrier in America right now, Verizon Wireless, is only starting to conduct field tests for its 5G service next year, while AT&T has stated that it will have some involvement in the development of this piece of technology. Suffice it to say that the most realistic thing everybody can expect to get by next year are promises and more promises.
Most industry watchers believe that full 5G service will not become widely accessible until 2020, which is still half a decade away, and only when the entire wireless industry can come to terms regarding how the service will actually be offered to consumers. Five years seem like a long wait (in mobile terms) but we need not worry, network providers are working on other solutions to improve connection speeds.
One is through carrier aggregation, which involves bundling multiple bands of spectrum, which should allow faster speeds. It is not 5G by any measure, but it should improve download times, especially when downloading photos or streaming movies on mobile. Most major wireless carriers are already doing this today, and we can pretty much expect more effort in this area in the next few months.
Related to carrier aggregation is a process call LTE-U. To provide a background on this tech, the U stands for the unlicensed spectrum, which is used by the user’s Wi-Fi router. In this process, wireless carriers would take advantage of unlicensed spectrum and use it as another highway of sorts to facilitate more data traffic to mobile devices. Plus, industry leaders Verizon Wireless and AT&T will likely ramp up their respective Wi-Fi calling features, allowing mobile users to use Wi-Fi when cellular networks are hard to come by.
Of course, efforts such as carrier aggregation and LTE-U only serve to establish the foundation for a fully functioning 5G network. The main problem with 5G is that it is just too early to tell which system and architecture best suits the service, and the most important thing that service providers can do for now is to test every option available. As for mobile users who need more speed, they will just have to wait a little longer.