The promise of 5G wireless is tantalizing. The fifth generation of wireless tech that races at lightning speed in theband, 5G as a nationwide network is all but required for a future of remote-operated drones and self-driving cars, all of which will need to send enormous amounts of data back and forth at ludicrous speeds. It could also make your phone faster, as data from two simulations by Qualcomm released at Mobile World Congress shows.
Most 5G testing so far has been done in laboratory conditions or very small pilot programs, which showcase the potential of the tech but not a great indication of the capabilities it would offer when hindered by the infrastructural conditions of the real world. In an attempt to get around this, Qualcomm embarked on a pair of simulations using real-world data about tower locations in Frankfurt, Germany and San Francisco, and came up with the following results as far as San Fran was concerned;
- Browsing download speeds increasing from 71 Mbps for the median 4G user to 1.4 Gbps for the median 5G user in mmWave coverage, a gain of approximately 2000 percent
- Approximately 23x faster responsiveness, with median browsing download latency reduced from 115ms to 4.9ms
- File download speeds of more than 186 Mbps for 90 percent of 5G users, compared to 10 Mbps for LTE, a 1,826 percent gain. The median 5G file download speed was 442 Mbps.
Sounds great, right? Sure, but there are a few speed bumps between here and there. Such a network will require new hardware on both ends, in the towers and in the phones that connect to them. Qualcomm, it should come as no surprise, is in the business of selling a lot of the chips required to make this happen, as are a number of Chinese companies, the fear of which lead the Trump administration to at least consider a nationalized 5G network.
But even assuming the infrastructure and new phones arrive quickly, there are more barriers to the high-speed free-for-all we’re all dreaming off. The lack of net neutrality regulations, which never applied to wireless providers and will soon not apply to land-based ISPs either, will give the owners and operators of these networks the absolute freedom to throttle these speeds on a whim.
What’s more is that modern wireless plans place limits on total data usage almost universally. This practice ostensibly emerged to relieve congested and aging networks, so there might be no practical reason for it once new 5G digital highways are in place, but there would certainly be a financial motive to continue charging overages to customers who have come to expect it.
Whenever the 5G does get here, it appears that it will be mind-bendingly fast. Hopefully we’ll actually get to use it to its fullest.