In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cellphones.
5G networks are predicted to have more than 1.7 billion subscribers worldwide by 2025, according to the GSM Association. Like its predecessors, 5G networks are cellular networks, in which the service area is divided into small geographical areas called cells. All 5G wireless devices in a cell are connected to the Internet and telephone network by radio waves through a local antenna in the cell.
The main advantage of the new networks is that they will have greater bandwidth, giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbit/s). Due to the increased bandwidth, it is expected the networks will increasingly be used as general internet service providers for laptops and desktop computers, competing with existing ISPs such as cable internet, and also will make possible new applications in internet of things (IoT) and machine to machine areas. 4G cellphones are not able to use the new networks, which require 5G enabled wireless devices.
The increased speed is achieved partly by using additional higher-frequency radio waves in addition to the low and medium band frequencies used in previous cellular networks. However, higher-frequency radio waves have a shorter useful physical range, requiring smaller geographic cells. For wide service, 5G networks operate on up to three frequency bands – low, medium, and high.
A 5G network will be composed of networks consisting of up to three different types of cells, each requiring specific antenna designs as well as providing a different tradeoff of download speed to distance and service area. 5G cellphones and wireless devices connect to the network through the highest speed antenna within range at their location:
Low-band 5G uses a similar frequency range to 4G cellphones, 600–850 MHz, giving download speeds a little higher than 4G: 30–250 megabits per second (Mbit/s). Low-band cell towers have a range and coverage area similar to 4G towers. Mid-band 5G uses microwaves of 2.5–3.7 GHz, allowing speeds of 100–900 Mbit/s, with each cell tower providing service up to several kilometers in radius. This level of service is the most widely deployed, and was deployed in many metropolitan areas in 2020. Some regions are not implementing low-band, making this the minimum service level.
High-band 5G uses frequencies of 25–39 GHz, near the bottom of the millimeter wave band, although higher frequencies may be used in the future. It often achieves download speeds in the gigabit per second (Gbit/s) range, comparable to cable internet. However, millimeter waves (mmWave or mmW) have a more limited range, requiring many small cells.
They can be impeded or blocked by materials in walls or windows. Due to their higher cost, plans are to deploy these cells only in dense urban environments and areas where crowds of people congregate such as sports stadiums and convention centers. The above speeds are those achieved in actual tests in 2020, and speeds are expected to increase during rollout.
The industry consortium setting standards for 5G is the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It defines any system using 5G NR (5G New Radio) software as “5G”, a definition that came into general use by late 2018. Minimum standards are set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Previously, some reserved the term 5G for systems that deliver download speeds of 20 Gbit/s as specified in the ITU’s IMT-2020 document.