Understanding 5G: The Future of Wireless Network Technology

By: Jake Willms, Quantitative Analyst

With the release of the Apple’s new iPhone 12 lineup, the first ever “5G iPhone”, the conversation surrounding 5G has picked up in the last few weeks. Telecommunications companies such as Verizon and T-Mobile have begun to advertise the power and coverage of their 5G networks, but it isn’t exactly clear to the everyday consumer what 5G is and whether they should pay up to get it.

5G, the latest and 5th generation of mobile networking technology, is the new global wireless standard, surpassing 4G from the previous decade. 5G is all about speed and low latency, which refers to the delay in a transfer of data. This is commonly referred to as “lag” when latency is high.

According to Qualcomm’s latest economic impact report, once the full economic benefit of 5G has been reached in 2035, the technology could produce over $13 trillion worth of goods and services globally. Moreover, the value chain is expected to generate approximately 22.3 million jobs and drive global GDP growth beyond $2 trillion.

A good deal of the confusion surrounding 5G stems from the name itself. 5G has two versions that are currently being implemented: high-band and low-band. High-band 5G, also referred to as “millimeter-wave 5G”, is the fastest and most powerful version of this new technology, but has a limited range of use and has poor service quality indoors. Meanwhile, low-band 5G provides excellent coverage quality, but isn’t a large increase in performance from 4G. Telecommunications gloss over these important distinctions in their advertisements, which isn’t surprising at all.

The new iPhone 12 comes with a hefty price tag, ranging from $699 to $1299. Before spending this kind of money, it’s important to evaluate to what extent you are in a position to take advantage of 5G’s capabilities.

Whether you can would benefit from a 5G phone today depends on two factors: your cell phone carrier, and your location. If you live in a major city, such as New York or Chicago, then chances are you will have optimal coverage of both high-band and low-band 5G from any of the major 3 providers (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile). However, the more remote you go, the less 5G coverage that will be available to you.

Another factor to consider is if you have an upgrade available with your carrier. With an upgrade, expensive 5G-ready phones such as the iPhone 12 can be purchased at a greatly reduced price, so check with your phone provider before you purchase.

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