A Simple Primer on 5G, the Next-Generation Wireless Network

Illustration by David Junkin

First, there was 1G, and it sucked. This first-gen F network was what Gordon Gekko’s blocky cell phone used in the ’80s. Now, there’s 5G. Its blistering speeds threaten to make our 4G current networks as archaic as Reagan-era tech.

Curious how 5G could change your life? Here’s a jargon-free primer on the next-generation wireless network.

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1. Transportation

If you just felt something, that was all of Silicon Valley fist-bumping, because self-driving cars will be a reality with 5G. Unfortunately, wireless providers might need years to build the needed infrastructure for these vehicles.

2. Public Safety

5G will play a huge role in disaster response and prevention, mostly by seamlessly linking public-safety communications, such as ambulances, dam sensors, and traffic lights.

3. Home

Smart-home networks will have the capacity to handle a constant, large flow of data from tiny sensors in air filters, lightbulbs, and HVAC units, to help improve a dwelling’s safety and energy-saving capabilities.

4. Work

Prepare to say goodbye to super-laggy video conferencing and hello to 3-D-hologram meetings with your boss and colleagues, thanks to 5G-supported augmented reality.

5. Entertainment

These days, streaming Succession without any glitches seems more far-fetched than autonomous cars. 5G should eliminate such server overloads, and take only five seconds to download super-high-def movies. That’s, like, all of the Transformers movies in less time than it takes to nuke a Hot Pocket.

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2 5G Controversies to Keep an Eye On

1. International Espionage. Tech giant Huawei is building a massive 5G network throughout much of the world. The U.S. government isn’t exactly thrilled about this, given Huawei’s coziness with the Chinese government and the risk of companies and citizens being spied on with Huawei gear.

2. DangerousCellWaves. Concerns have emerged about possible health risks from 5G’s extremely high-frequency waves, known as mmWaves. Though it seems unlikely normal exposure levels pose a serious threat to humans, more research is needed.

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