Everything You Need to Know About 5G

Smartphones these days include a lot more than just a mobile network, but that mobile network is essential for some of the basic functions of your phone. It is what you use to place calls, play internet games and send regrettably long text messages.

Mobile networks — also called cellular networks — rely on areas of land that are known as cells. They are usually hexagonal in shape. Each cell hosts one or multiple cell towers that can receive and transmit data. Cell towers send off packets of signals to one another, holding data like voice or text. These signals eventually make it back to your or your friend's cell phone.

Networks weren't always capable of handling functions like games and texting though. Like humans, they've evolved over the years. With each development, cellular technology only becomes more advanced. The latest development in the evolutionary process is the 5G network, the fastest network there is.

What is 5G (and What is G)?

To learn everything you need to know about 5G, you'll first have to know what the G means. G stands for generation, and contrary to popular thought, there have been six of them so far. Having a basic understanding of each generation in the mobile network family is key to fully comprehending the true scope of a 5G network.


0G NEtworks

First-generation phones, or phones on 1G networks, had all the problems we associate with being in an area with bad service, except these problems were all the time. The first 1G system was introduced in North America in 1978. In spite of horrible battery life, poor voice quality and frequent dropped calls, the introduction of such a system proved to be wildly popular. Mobile businesses grew faster than any financial forecaster could realistically predict, and keeping up with demand was difficult. The utility and accessibility of a cell phone were completely new to consumers at that time.


2G Networks

The main difference between 2G networks and 1G networks is the change from analog to digital. In analog format, information is translated from radio frequencies, essentially an infinite amount of electric pulses of varying amplitude. Digital networks use binary, which gives two simple options — 0 or 1.

With the transition to 2G networks came the most revolutionary inventions of our time. One of these is SIM cards. The other is SMS messaging. SIM cards allow cell phone users to transfer data from one device to another without unnecessary hassle or having to inevitably lose your mobile number. SMS messaging refers to text, easily one of the most popular forms of communication today.

Some other upgrades 2G networks offered are internal roaming, conference calls, call holding and service-specific billing, such as charges on long-distance calls and fees that are invoiced in real-time.


3G Networks

The dawn of smartphones coincided with the introduction of 3G networks. In spite of the second generation's best efforts, there were certain limitations that 3G was built to surpass. This brought about wireless technology as we know it today — web browsing, video downloads and picture sharing.

Third-generation networks also had much higher data rates than past networks. Endless buffering was no more. Unofficially, multimedia streaming became much more popular, and voice quality this time around was much clearer.

Since then, higher data rates have been in ever-increasing demand, mostly to support smartphone users' taste for media consumption. This demand has been successfully met with sensational upgrades in transmission speeds among cell phones.


4G Networks

Fourth-generation, or 4G networks, only became possible due to the technological advancements made in the past decade. Besides the basic amenities of a cell phone, 4G networks were made to offer the highest grade of speed, quality and capacity that was possible at the time. Smartphone users not only want to call, but they want the internet, games, high-definition television and cloud computing all wrapped up in one pocket-busting, reflective screen.

On a technical basis, 4G is more difficult to define. Two principle standards of 4G networks are WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) and LTE (Long Term Evolution). The initial versions of 4G were more closely aligned with WiMAX. They were sometimes dubbed 3.9G and are now considered to be antiquated. LTE, the more common standard, characterizes a series of recurring upgrades to the 4G network. Unlike WiMAX, there is less controversy over whether LTE should be marketed as a 4G network.

The fourth-generation of mobile networks successfully ended buffer as a concept entirely. Imagine a video playing instantly when you press play or a document downloading moments after your finger clicked the download button.


5G Networks

The fifth-generation of mobile technology, 5G networks, is a never-before-seen phenomenon. Currently still under construction for the majority of smartphone users, it's at the front line of shiny, brand new toys we can look forward to as this decade is just beginning. Like every generation before, 5G networks are intended to improve on past generations. In this case, that means better than 4G networks. Now that's impressive.

The specific refinements of 5G include less than a millisecond of delay to download content and maximum download speeds of 20 gigabits per second. To compare, the handy 4G phone that's probably by your side right now delivers data with about 70 milliseconds of delay and has an average download speed of one gigabit per second. It's fast, but not as fast as a 5G network.


How Does 5G Work?

Though still in the works for many network carriers, there are five main technologies that the tech-savvy expect will bolster performance for 5G networks compared to 4G — millimeter waves, small cells, massive MIMO, beamforming and full duplex. These names might sound funny on the tongue, but they can all be broken down into laymen's terms. 


Millimeter Waves

Congestion of mobile networks is usually credited with the fact that our mobile providers run on the same bands of radio-frequency spectrum that has been used for ages. Bandwidth is the range of frequency allocated for a given band to transmit signals, and there is only so much of it to go around. This leads to overcrowding, so laggy service and dropped calls occur as a result. Millimeter waves — which run on higher frequencies than radio waves — could be the solution to such a problem. Fifth-generation networks propose occupying a whole new band on the spectrum via broadcasting on these waves.

The name millimeter waves comes from the wave's size. They have lengths from one to 10 millimeters, in contrast to radio waves that have a much more diverse range of wavelengths. Before now, millimeter waves were used for radars and satellites. Connecting mobile users through this method is a completely new approach.

The disadvantage of using millimeter waves is their inability to travel sufficiently through buildings and other tangible barriers. Foliage and rain impede the signal as well. Fifth-generation networks hope to counter this with small cells.

Small Cells

We've already discussed how cells are the center for towers that transceive — transmit and receive — data. To prevent signals from running into unforeseen obstacles with millimeter waves, small cells can serve as a checkpoint of sorts. Small cells are like regular cells, but much tinier and portable. Placed every 250 meters or so of a given locale, they require minimal power to operate.

Naturally, doing so would require much more infrastructure than a 4G network. Luckily, antennas for small cells are also small. They can be stuck to a pole or affixed to abuilding.

Massive MIMO

The technology of MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) streamlines the process of transmitting and receiving data by utilizing wireless systems that use two or more transmitters and receivers to collect and output more data at a time. Jabbing the word massive on one end of MIMO just means that this technology is magnified by creating dozens of antennas with this system.

Originally, the base stations of 4G networks only have 12 ports for antennas to manage cellular traffic. That's the sum of eight transmitters and four receivers. With massive MIMO technology, the base stations of 5G networks can handle about a hundred ports, increasing the efficiency of mobile networks by at least a factor of 22.

One drawback of massive MIMO, however, is that installing so many antennas to navigate cellular traffic can lead to interferences when signals cross. Beamforming, another 5G technology, could prevent this problem.


Beamforming has the capacity to analyze signal traffic and determine what the best route for delivering data is for any given user. By using a signaling system, it mitigates any interference for those nearby. The application of beamforming can happen in several different ways.

Massive MIMO generates algorithms at base stations to sketch the optimal transmission routes for each user before sending packets of data through the air. Beamforming can track the movement of these packets and their arrival time, making up for the interference that MIMO tends to cause by engendering stronger, more reliable connections. This results in more information being exchanged from one point to another.

With millimeter waves, beamforming can help focus a signal in a single direction toward a user rather than broadcasting too generally. This way, hindering obstacles can be avoided.

Full Duplex

For as long as mobile networks have been around, they have never been able to send and receive data at the same time. Transceivers take turns transmitting and receiving data on the same frequency. If ever the need arises for a user to transmit and receive information at the same time, then the base station has to switch frequencies. It's a bit of an inconvenience.

Of course, in real life, you generally try not to talk over your friends when they're talking. Or at meetings, you hold back your suggestions until the end. That's normal. Be that as it may, life would get along much faster if you had the ability to listen and talk at the same time, and all parties involved could retain all the information that was conveyed. Full duplex has that ability.

Full Duplex is any communication that can flow back and forth simultaneously. Due to reciprocity, radio waves aren't naturally capable of such a thing — except, some years ago, electrical engineers developed silicon transistors that enabled backward and forward communication.

Unfortunately, full duplex causes echoes, meaning more interference. Special echo-canceling technology could inhibit this, but that's just one more wish in the mobile technology well.

What Can It Do (That 4G Couldn't)?

Fifth-generation networks differentiate themselves from fourth-generation networking by relying on three different spectrum bands. This one feature radically changes how mobile phones work, for the better. Each band has gains and losses, and network carriers utilize each one differently.

Low-Band Spectrum

These bands are what mobile phones have been using up until now. The low-band spectrum, in particular, is sub 1GHz in regards to frequency. Most carriers in the United States make use of this band for LTE — a great reminder of just how exhausted the poor bandwidth for this frequency must be.

Carriers don't use this band without due reason. The coverage on a low-band spectrum is unparalleled, and wall penetration is likewise great. Data speeds, on the other hand, are slow, topping out at 100 megabits per second.

T-Mobile thrives on this band nevertheless. Having recently bought a hefty amount of 600MHz spectrum, T-Mobile plans to build its nationwide 5G network with it. Note that 1MHz is a thousandth of 1GHz.

Mid-Band Spectrum

Compared to the low-band spectrum, the mid-band spectrum has is faster in speed with less latency. Speeds peak at one gigabit per second. The trade-off is that the mid-band spectrum cannot penetrate walls as well as the low-band spectrum.

Sprint is the biggest collector of the mid-band spectrum in the United States. To work around some of the shortcomings of this spectrum band, Sprint is enlisting the help of massive MIMO to enhance penetration as well as coverage. They're also using beamforming to strengthen service even further.

High-Band Spectrum

The high-band spectrum can facilitate performance of the utmost caliber for 5G networks. Unsurprisingly, this means that the high-band spectrum has the greatest drawback. As the high-band spectrum utilizes millimeter waves, wall penetration is extremely poor, and coverage is low. The advantage is that this spectrum features peak speeds up to 10 gigabits per second with the lowest latency of all spectrums.

The new era of 5G networking indicates that many carriers will be operating on this spectrum, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Network carriers have a responsibility to stay current and ahead if feasible. These carriers will be using small cells to make up for the deficiencies of the high-band spectrum, but they'll be revolutionizing mobile networks at any rate.  

How Fast Is It?

Coming from a 4G network to a 5G network, the most notable difference will be speed. This is one of the most important features in evaluating wireless technology. We measure speed by bits per second. A bit is the smallest unit of data in computing.

Look at 5G network speeds with a grain of salt. Details attributed to how fast the 5G network runs is based on using the network in a vacuum with no conflicting obstacles. In reality, it's unlikely for speeds to reach their summit. Especially since 5G phones haven't been distributed worldwide, we truly don't know how fast 5G is just yet. But 5G is fast without a doubt:

  • Downloading speeds: Theoretically, 4G could operate at 300 megabits per second. On average, it only gets to about 33 megabits. Its peak is 90 megabits. Well, 5G should be much faster than that. Remember that each gigabit is composed of 1,000 megabits. With that knowledge, consider that the average speed of a phone running on a 5G network will be three gigabits per second. Tech experts believe this will go up to 10 gigabits per second. For perspective, this speed would permit you to download a two-hour film in just 3.6 seconds. Fifth-generation networks, in theory, could peak at 20 gigabits per second.
  • Uploading speeds: Peak upload speeds for 5G networks should be at 10 gigabits per second. Realistically, this will measure up to 100 megabits per second if we account for conditions that aren't ideal.
  • Latency: A 5G network should have only one millisecond of latency. This is how long it takes the network to respond to a request — that is, transmitting or receiving data. With 3G networks, this latency was 60 milliseconds long. Fourth-generation networks had a 50 millisecond latency period. Fifth-generation networks in comparison are unbelievably fast, but this is similarly theoretical.

What Are the Benefits of 5G?

What 5G means for you is an overall better quality of life. A joke about first-world problems is definitely laughable, but the convenience to call your loved ones on a whim, with a reliable and effective connection, is a gift to all — and that's not limited to the United States or the Western world.

A 5G network is a benefit to everyone. Delays on public transportation would be much more bearable if your favorite show streaming on your smartphone didn't freeze up every 30 seconds. Even better, 5G networks open up quicker communication for the people or things causing those delays and the people who can fix them. That's just one of many examples. Think about managing your hotel room from your smartphone or sending over your immunizations to your out-of-town doctor in a matter of seconds. Fifth-generation mobile networks are unquestionably valuable.

Worried about your 4G phone turning obsolete? Don't worry — it won't. While 4G phones will not work on 5G networks, 4G phones will stick around for quite a while. After all, 2G and 3G networks are still out there, making the best out of their limited features.

When Is 5G Rolling Out?

You'll be glad to know that several carriers already have rolled out the 5G network in the United States for the new year. However, the places where you can use 5G is currently restricted to its availability on your specific network, if it's available at all:

  • Verizon: Verizon launched their 5G network in April 2019. It's live in 31 cities, mostly the major metropolitan areas, as well as some smaller cities like Memphis and Columbus.
  • AT&T: AT&T hasn't launched a fully-supported 5G phone, but they have given customers a 5G hotspot and have been since late 2018. They expect nationwide coverage by the first half of 2020.
  • T-Mobile: For T-Mobile customers, 5G is available in over 5,000 cities.
  • Sprint: Sprint's 5G network is only available in a number of popular cities — Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City, New York, Phoenix, Washington, D.C. and Los Angelos. There will be more to come.

Where Can I Get 5G?

The fifth-generation of mobile networks is changing the day-to-day lives of smartphone users all over the world, one day at a time, in addition to revamping mobile networks as we know them. It's no surprise if having a smartphone with a 5G network appeals to you, and getting your hands on one is incredibly easy, too.

At Gazelle, we save you hundreds of dollars by providing refurbished, carrier-compatible phones. There's no underlying contract or hidden fees, and we make smooth, safe transactions. Our phones are priced fairly and restored to fully-functional use.

Have an old phone running 4G and need some extra cash? We can take care of that. Give us your old smartphone that you're no longer using. In turn, we'll give you an honest quote at no risk to you. Afterward, you'll have cash in your pocket — and you can start browsing Gazelle for your next 5G smartphone.

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