Simply put, 5G is the fifth generation of cellular wireless/mobile technology. First there was 1G that was built from nothing — a clean sheet of paper. Every subsequent generation of cellular technology (2G, 3G, and 4G) has been incrementally built on top of the preceding generation and offers increased capacity and speed. 5G will continue this evolution but promises to make large scale improvements. Specifically, 5G promises to deliver 1) speeds in excess of 1 Gbps, up to 10 times faster than 4G, 2) ultra-low latency <1 mSec, and 3) effective IoT to a massive number of devices.
5G will address the ever-increasing demand for more bandwidth, speed, and data traffic. It’s estimated that by 2024, 25 percent of mobile data traffic will be carried by 5G networks. That’s 1.3 times more than 4G/3G/2G traffic today. It’s also estimated that there will be more than 60 times growth in mobile data traffic from 2013 to 2024.1
It is expected that 5G technology will have the same revolutionary effect on our society as did the introduction of transformative technologies, such as electricity and cars. In healthcare, that revolution will be life changing and will affect every aspect of the healthcare ecosystem from patient care, diagnostics, monitoring, virtual care, and more. 5G will provide the higher speeds, lower latency, and greater bandwidth to enable large video data uploads and downloads with ultra-low latency, such as from MRIs, to take one or two seconds instead of minutes. Or in some cases, have to be made over hard-wired connections. Applications, such as medical IoT, will become faster, more reliable, and more ubiquitous. 5G will enable critical communications (CriC) with almost no latency. Communications between caregivers at the hospital and emergency personnel in ambulances or life flights will be instantaneous. Remote robotic surgery commands that require immediate responsiveness will become a reality. There can be no latency from when the surgeon issues a command and when it is actually deployed. This is the promise of 5G.
5G is here, now, but it is not widespread. It’s been in the works for nearly a decade. Here’s a little background. It took about 25 years to go from first generation analog cellular (1G), introduced in the eighties, to the move to digital: 2G, 3G, and then to 4G, which was introduced in 2010 in the US. The first release of 5G, in late 2017 by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), was for non-stand-alone 5G New Radio (NR). In June 2018, the 3GPP finalized Release 15 (R15) for stand-alone 5G.
Currently, all the major carriers are rolling out fixed and mobile 5G services in select cities. As of November 2019, there were 46 5G networks2 launched in the US. In 2020, expect more 5G networks to roll out, particularly in densely populated urban areas.
In addition, the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), an agency of the United Nations tasked with establishing standards associated with communications and technology on an internal level, is working on a set of 5G standards known as IMT-2020, which is short for International Mobile Technologies. The standards are expected to be released in 2020.
1 Ericsson Mobility Report November 2018