5G May Not Be What You Think It Is

5G, known as fifth-generation wireless technology, has been a hot topic of debate. What makes 5G different than 4G? The answer is not what you think.

The latest version of cellular infrastructure technology is just that. This iteration of this emerging cellular technology is bringing faster speeds and increased responsiveness, according to Tech Target, a site dedicated to spreading and evaluating the knowledge of emerging technologies. 5G will have a high ceiling of potential transfer speeds, with a theoretical estimate of as fast as 20 gigabits per second (Gbps). Connection speeds will even exceed wired network connections, which was the standard if you wanted the fastest speeds, offering low latencies of below five milliseconds (ms), bringing a lot of use cases for applications requiring real-time feedback. Soon, more 5G infrastructure will be built, giving more high-speed access, business, and real-time application to people around the globe.

Electromagnetic radiation has two categories ionizing and non-ionizing, according to Forbes. The danger of 5G is a misnomer while ionizing radiation at high doses has possible links to cancer. 5G uses non-ionizing radiation. Experts agree the risk of non-ionizing radiation is not the same. The Food and Drug Administration and their team of Medical Doctors, Scientists who study radio frequencies report that the current limit on radiofrequency energy set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) remains acceptable regarding public health and safety. Research published by the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology found no evidence of danger related to low-level Radio Frequency (RF) above 6GHz, such as the ones 5G networks use.

“The electromagnetic radiation is at low levels that could not cause more than a small fraction of one degree Celsius increase in tissues,” says Christopher Collins, Ph.D., a professor of radiology at New York University. “To put it in perspective, when you walk outside on a sunny day, you can feel your skin heat up a few degrees very rapidly, and over the course of one day, your core body temperature can vary by about one degree Celsius. Also, when you feel your cell phone getting warm, it is because of the electronics in the phone getting hot, not from the wireless radiation to your skin.”

Fourth-generation (4G) Long-Term Evolution (LTE) has provided the foundation for 5G, according to techtarget.com. In comparison to 4G, which requires Large and powerful cell towers to radiate signals over vast distances, 5G works in a different way. 5G wireless transmits through small cell stations located in everyday places in a stealthful manner, such as light poles or building roofs. Although more of these small transmitters are required because the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, which is between 30 and 300 gigahertz (GHz), can only travel short distances as the waves are smaller, often interfered with by objects such as buildings, trees, other physical objects. Manufacturers of this technology are also using low-frequency waves to offset the downside of distance, increasing the range but lowering the speeds, used in combination to give faster speeds when needed and reliable connection as well, building new networks when they need.

5G works similarly to the way 4G works, which we have been using since 2010 on a widespread scale in America, according to lightreading.com. According to Ericsson’s November 2019 Mobility Report, LTE is still maturing globally. There were only 4.2 billion LTE subscriptions around the globe in 2019’s 3rd fiscal quarter. In 2022, LTE reached its peak, with Ericsson expecting 5.4 billion LTE subscriptions globally. Expect this to change as Ericsson believes LTE will decline to roughly 4.8 billion subscriptions by 2025 as customers switch over to 5G.

United States is shifting faster towards using 5G compared to the rest of the world, according to Ericsson, as 5G penetration and advertising and infrastructure are developed here in the US faster. Devices seem to play a keen role in the switchover of cellular technologies.

“Historically, the churn rate of people getting new devices has been pretty consistent,” says Nokia’s Murphy. “About 20% of people update their mobile phones every year. And in the beginning, 5G devices are expensive.”

The price point is the barrier to entry for most, according to Nokia’s Murphy. Apple launched its 5G capable iPhone in late 2020, creating demand for the new technology. But even so, there is still a population of antiquated 3G devices in service. Some people don’t see the need to switch to new technology, although many cellular companies are forcing this choice by shutting down 3G networks.

“Some don’t want to buy a new device,” Ericsson’s Challoner says, “many of the 3G subscriptions are M2M customers that have long-term contracts.”

5G is an emerging technology that is being adopted more every day, with 3G discarded as of late and 4G LTE becoming older by the day. America is leading the charge for the adoption of this new cellular technology.