As I mentioned in the previous post, a bigger concern in 4G Versus 5G Wireless Technology is a physics problem – more specifically, an electromagnetic spectrum issue. If you’ll recall from your science class days, the electromagnetic spectrum is a collection of all known frequencies in the universe [reference image below]. Here in the United States, the spectrum is tightly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and frequencies are auctioned off to the highest bidder. If you want to learn more about how this works, check out the FCC’s website.
4G Versus 5G Wireless Technology Wavelengths
Let’s dive in and hopefully, I won’t lose you in the physics behind this – it’s important and the reason why 5G is slow to make any kind of traction. 5G operates at a higher frequency range (called millimeter waves) than legacy technologies. This gives 5G the speed and low-latency capabilities advertised but with a trade-off. Here is where the crux of the problem lies, physics dictates the higher the frequency the shorter the wavelength – which, if you’re keeping up, means higher speeds over shorter distances.
Well, how short of a distance are we talking about here? Currently, it is about 100 meters. No need to adjust your monitor you read that right, 100 meters or about 300 ft on a clear day with no obstructions. In order to make 5G a reality, we will need millions of “stations” set up all over the country ranging from our neighborhoods to our highways. That’s not all, the signal is so fragile and prone to interruptions that stations will likely be in our houses before too long. Because of its limited scope, fewer subscribers will be able to access from a single cell tower.
I am not one to end on a sour note, but in my opinion, there are too many unanswered questions as to whether or not 5G will ever be more than a pipe dream. Some cities, such as Charlotte, NC, are working with lawmakers to bring 5G to their city for testing autonomous vehicles and other such technologies. It is still in the early stages and it’s proving to be an expensive endeavor. Some telecom companies expect to invest $275 billion into 5G infrastructure by 2025. For now, this technologist is in a holding pattern.
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