Defining 5G Networks

Defining 5G Networks

The cellular data market is constantly expanding. Even a casual look at the major trends in cell phone use over the last fifteen years shows a clear rise in consumers’ ability to access data and their reliance on the ease of that access. The next major upgrade to the cellular data system is expected to come online by 2020. This 5g system is projected to allow unprecedented connectivity capabilities over the preceding generations of cellular data networks.

A few brief notes on cell phone history are appropriate before a discussion of later networks. Each “g” in a system’s name describes its generation, so a 3g system is the third generation. 1g systems were the first cell phones and made calls by transmitting sound in an analog format. These were later upgraded to 2g systems, whose major advantage was the switch to digital transmission. Neither of these systems allowed significant data to be transmitted, limiting their usage to calls and text messages.

Defining 5G

3G – Data at Last

The first commercial 3g systems began to roll out in 2002, starting with SK Telecom’s launch in South Korea in January of that year. Throughout the rest of 2002, various carriers around the world began to bring their own 3g systems online. In America, Monet Mobile Networks brought the first 3g system online, followed by Verizon later that year.

It is difficult to put hard limits on the speeds and connectivity offered by 3g systems, as they have evolved and changed significantly over the last thirteen years. The first 3g networks offered speeds of around 144kbps, but now these same networks have been upgraded to speeds of 400kbps or much more.

In terms of use, 3g tends to have been aimed towards some streaming of video, but mostly supports the streaming of audio or simply accessing data in the form of text and pictures. While true downloading and internet access are certainly possible, they are not the use for which 3g is intended.

4G – Internet Everywhere

Networks offering data coverage through 4g are in many ways similar to their 3g predecessors. The main differences between the two are in connection speeds, with 4g networks offering up to 1gbit/s in download speeds. These substantially higher speeds allow for a great deal more intense connection between a device and the network, making possible the streaming of games, high-definition video, and reliable videoconferencing.

One particularly interesting aspect of the 4g network is a transition from the old 2g digital transmission of calls to a system entirely built around passing phone calls through a VOIP system. This switch to a much more data-rich method of connecting phone calls is of particular interest with upcoming developments in data usage through the 5g network.

5G – The Next Wave

The first 5g systems are projected to come online worldwide by about 2020. Some experts expect they will be tested widely during South Korea’s Summer Olympics in 2016, but this remains speculation. This early, little information is available about the fine details of the system, but some of its uses have already been widely discussed.

Beyond simply increasing the speed at which data is accessed, 5g systems are going to offer a major revolution in the way the consumer thinks about an internet-connected device. Up to this point, a device connected to the internet has always been some variety of a small computer the user carries around with them. If not connected to the internet, the device would still be able to fulfill many of its functions on its own.

When 5g products begin to become widely available, this is going to change dramatically. The most common devices that will make use of 5g data will not be smart phones or computers, but small sensors imbedded in other objects. A good example of this would be a heart-rate monitor embedded in a piece of clothing. Rather than designing a device which would be capable of measuring the heart rate, displaying it, and possibly calculating other data; 5g will allow for devices which can simply sense the user’s heartbeat and directly transmit that data to another device.

This offloading of processing power will be a major trend in the devices which make the most use of 5g networks. As it becomes progressively easier to perform the processing elements of a device outside of the physical object in the user’s hands, more and more devices will slim down their design, reducing their physical presence to the bare minimum.

The Internet of Things

The growing trend of connecting every object possible to data services is known as the Internet of Things. As the Internet of Things grows into wider applications, more and more devices will be networked. Potential uses for this technology are endless, ranging from a smart thermostat which would heat individual rooms of a house depending on the occupants’ usage, to a keyless bike lock whose digital key is shareable through any device.

Specific applications aside, the Internet of things is by far the most exciting area of development for the new 5g system. The ability to place sensors and connect any device, no matter how small to other devices in the user’s house will usher in an era of ease and comfort undreamt in previous generations. It should be acknowledged, however, that it is not without its critics.


The widespread adoption of smart devices, especially through the Internet of Things has raised some concerns from a wide variety of groups. The ACLU has warned that the complete connection of our lives to these sensors will lead to a situation in which, “companies will increasingly know all there is to know about you.” The results of this would be best compared to the contemporary experiences with advertising and internet marketing. If a refrigerator can inform companies about what items a household is running low on, this opens up new and lucrative, but potentially ethically doubtful markets for advertising.

The article goes on to warn that “law enforcement will exploit any database built, if it makes it easier to figure out what the rest of us are up to.” A house filled with objects all collecting data on the its inhabitants would generate a treasure trove of information for any interested party. Even the NIC warns about the possible danger which could result from an unsecured network built around a fully interconnected household. A single product with malicious code could easily wreak havoc on an unimaginable scale once it was integrated into a wide variety of houses.

Environmental activists have also raised concerns with the lasting effects of these sensors being produced and distributed on such a wide scale. The heavy presence of semiconductors in each of these sensors and other devices will lead to a massive amount of heavy metals and other toxic materials making their way into landfills as these devices are eventually discarded. Some have responded to this argument by pointing out that the ubiquity of sensors in our houses will help cut down on energy use, drastically reducing pollution.