The Fifth Generation or 5G internet is one of the biggest buzzwords in technology over the past few years. The next generation of cellular technology, offering greater speeds and lower latencies, promises to change everything.
It’s supposed to bring changes to your phone, home internet, and fields like self-driving cars and remote surgery. But there’s also been a lot of bad information, rumors, and bizarre conspiracy theories surrounding it that don’t make sense.
People ask, “what is 5G”? As the name suggests, it’s the fifth generation of cellular technology.
The first cell networks were the 1G networks in the 1980s, then, 2G networks added basic data like SMS messages. And then 3G internet expanded this even more.
Now, 4G LTE, which our phones currently use, offered truly fast mobile internet, usable for a whole range of applications. These include social media networks and streaming services on phones and tablets.
But 5G promises to take things a step further. It offers faster speeds and latency which could put mobile internet on par with home Wi-Fi. However, technologically, it’s very much an evolution of our current cellular technology. The three different approaches to 5G in the US make those gradual changes very clear.
Fifth Generation Speeds
AT&T and T-Mobile’s low-band networks, for instance, are in the 600MHz and 850MHz bands. That is effectively the same area in the spectrum as the existing LTE, however, they rely on new transmission technologies. These are MIMO antenna arrays and carrier aggregation to increase speeds beyond what LTE can offer.
Sprint’s or the new T-Mobile’s midband 5G with the 2.5GHz goes further up the spectrum, offering more bandwidth. It also offers even faster speeds than low-band 5G but is more limited when it comes to coverage.
Then there’s high-bandwidth, on the millimeter-wave spectrum. This is the entirety of Verizon’s mobile 5G network, as well as some smaller parts of AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks.
Here, the radio waves have wavelengths between one to ten millimeters, hence the name. They have offered drastically more bandwidth for really fast 5G speeds.
However, those small radio waves are particularly bad at passing through objects. That’s why Verizon only has 5G on a few street corners instead of the nationwide coverage that AT&T and T-Mobile offer.
So, does Fifth Generation (or 5G) include any cellular radiation that is at all dangerous? Not at all.
There are plenty of other good resources that can offer far more detail. Nearly all of the scientific evidence there is shows that cellphone radiation doesn’t pose a threat to humans. The Food and Drug Administration, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society all agree.
This is because, fundamentally, 5G radio is in the same range of the electromagnetic spectrum as the rest of cellular data. This range is all made up of non-ionizing radiation.
This means that it lacks the energy needed to remove electrons from atoms and degrade cells. The kind of damage that harmful radiation can cause is further up the spectrum.
Scientists can’t even think of a plausible method for how cellphone radiation could cause cancer. It’s physically deficient in the amount of energy that would be necessary to cause that type of harmful cell damage. That is the kind of damage that people tend to associate with the word “radiation.”
Fifth Generation (or 5G) is in that same category of radiation as the cellphone technology we’re already using. It’s nowhere even remotely close to the level of energy needed to cause cellular damage that people are worried about.
Practical Problems Relating to Fifth Generation
However, there are some real concerns over 5G. They are likely more practical problems like the way we’ll deal with data caps. Faster data makes it easy to burn through carrier limits very quickly.
Moreover, 5G phones are expensive, at least for now, and they can have poor battery life. The limited wave range in 5G means truly comprehensive networks will take time to roll out on a wide scale. That is, instead of just a few street corners.
These were actually issues we’ve solved before. Past generational changes from 2G to 3G or from 3G to LTE had similar challenges. As a whole, the industry managed to solve them.
The only real difference is how we relate to our mobile phones. We’re much more reliant on phones than we ever were before, some 10 or 15 years ago. That is why these issues feel like much a bigger deal now.