Confused about 5G? Here’s what it is (and when it’s coming to Austin)

by Katie Fustich
September 18, 2018
5G Networks
image via shutterstock

Amidst tech’s hottest trends — cryptocurrency, the blockchain, machine learning et al. — 5G connectivity has emerged as one of the most promising elements of our technological future. Yet, like so many other new technologies, 5G is a term that is often thrown around, but less often fully understood.

So, what is 5G and why should you care? Let’s just say that it has the potential to transform Austin from a tech hub to a tech empire.

 

What is 5G, and why does it matter?

5G is a form of ultra-fast wireless internet connectivity. Its name is a reference to it being the fifth generation of wireless broadband technology. But according to Sriram Vishwanath, co-founder of local 5G startup GenXComm, 5G is not merely an “extension of 4G.”

“5G is a whole new standard, brings new architectures and business models to market, and it enables performance in terms of throughput, latency, agility and densification that is a huge leap from where 4G is today,” he said.

Reportedly, 5G technology is 100 times faster than our current 4G technology on average. While that may seem slightly exorbitant, it has its uses. As more and more people get online, the increase in overall traffic places a greater strain on pre-existing networks.

What’s more, as important industries like healthcare and education turn to the latest technologies, it is imperative that they can access data without delay.

5G is a whole new standard that brings new architectures and business models to market.”

 

At first glance, 5G may seem little more than a boosted bitrate. But according to Vishwanath, looking back to previous generations of mobile connectivity illustrates how faster connections can unlock new possibilities.

“The transition from 3G to 4G lead to smartphones such as the next generation iPhone, and apps such as Facetime, Facebook Live, Periscope and the ability to share multimedia anyplace, anytime,” he said. “Similarly, the 5G revolution will bring about new applications the world has never seen: real-time, immersive wireless AR and VR experiences, new vehicular networks for semi-autonomous driving, new healthcare delivery models and all-new IoT applications.”

 

When can Austinites expect 5G to arrive?

As you can imagine, upgrading a large metropolitan area to 5G capabilities is not easy. It requires the installation of thousands of micro-transmitters across the city to ensure even coverage across an area.

Essentially, 5G goes beyond simple cell towers and instead relies on “microtowers” embedded in everyday parts of our infrastructure, like streetlights. This allows data to make quick, short bounces between touch points, as opposed to traveling great distances to the nearest cell tower, worming its way through all of the other data floating in the air.

Unsurprisingly, establishing this type of network is not easy.

Nevertheless, companies like AT&T and Verizon — who are leading some of the largest pushes for 5G connectivity — have made Austin a clear priority. Just earlier this year, AT&T opened a 5G testing lab in North Austin. The tests conducted at the site help simulate 5G connectivity in a variety of real-world environments before products are officially rolled out to the public.

Carriers are actively deploying 5G infrastructure as we speak, with most of them planning to be active in select markets in 2019.”

 

Meanwhile, local companies like GenXComm and PureWrx are helping the tech world ease into a 5G world. Both companies build hardware that help networks manage swaths of incoming and outgoing data.

While some are frustrated with the pace of 5G development in Austin, including the lingering question of any potential launch date, all signs point in a hopeful direction.

“Carriers are actively deploying 5G infrastructure as we speak, with most of them planning to be active in select markets in 2019,” Vishwanath said. “Accounting for some delays, we can expect 5G to become available [in Austin] in the 2019-2020 timeframe.”

Someday, when you’re reading an article at 100 times your current internet speed, this waiting period will be little more than a distant memory. That is, at least until 6G rolls around.

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