Apple Guide Podcast

Apple Guide Podcast

5G is a Joke

June 11, 2021

I'm sure you've all seen the ads for the latest and greatest 5G cellular service from the likes of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. It boasts super-fast speeds that let you download a whole TV series in seconds and have your Facebook feed load in a blink of an eye. But if you read the fine print and watch some reviews, you will learn the 5G is a joke and has no visual benefit, at least for now. So, let's take a look at what 5G is, where it's at, and where it's going.

Like 2G, 3G, 4G, and later 4G LTE, 5G is the 5th generation of mobile networking. Within this generational update are a handful of features that will improve the speed, reliability, and capacity of the cellular networks we heavily rely on.

There is a great video from the IEEE ("I" triple "E") on the new technologies bundled with the 5G specification. I will leave a link to that below. But here are the basics.

Right now, most cell phone towers cannot send and receive data at the same time. So, data can only go in one direction at a time. If your phone is receiving data, it can't also send data. But, thanks to full-duplex, your phone and the cell tower can now communicate back and forth at the same time. Then, instead of your phone broadcasting over a radius to connect to the tower, beamforming efficiently creates a "direct line" between you and the cell tower. Lastly, there is MIMO, or Multiple Input Multiple Output, which is essentially adding more antennas to cell towers. Put all of these features together and, it can definitely increase your mobile internet speeds.

But now it's time to get into a little bit of science. All wireless technology operates on some level of the electromagnetic spectrum. For instance, when you turn on your radio and tune into 107.5, you're accessing the 107.5 MHz band, which is right here. 2.4GHz Wi-Fi operates here, and 5 GHz Wi-Fi operates here. Beyond just wireless technology, the electromagnetic spectrum also contains visible light, powers our microwaves, and is used for x-rays. But, getting back to cellular, you can find that right here. Now, none of this really matters. The only thing you need to know is the further right you travel, the faster speeds you will get with a more unstable connection. Then, the further left you travel is a wider range of coverage at a much slower speed.

First, let's compare 5G to a technology you're probably more familiar with, Wi-Fi. Most home Wi-Fi routers can broadcast at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Those are here and here on the spectrum. In some cases, you will have two independent networks set up for each of these bands. Others will automatically and intelligently connect you to whichever band will give you the best connection. But what's the difference? Well, 2.4GHz is lower on the spectrum, which is ideal for providing a solid connection to a very wide area. On the other hand, 5GHz is much higher on the spectrum and supports the fastest speed possible. However, it does get handicapped by anything that could be laying in between your device and the WIFI router, such as walls and furniture.

Now, let's apply this to cellular tech. 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is to 4G mobile as 5GHz is to 5G mobile.

Now it's time for me to say that 5G isn't that simple. According to the Verge video I have linked below there are three levels to 5G. Low-band 5G provides coverage over a very large area with speeds just a little bit higher than 4G. High-band 5G can cover a city block and give you faster speeds than your home internet. Then there is mid-band, which will cover a large area at speeds between low-...