If you’re excited to experience 5G service, you’re not alone. Carriers like Verizon and AT&T have been quick to hype up the benefits of the next generation of wireless service. Indeed, consumers can expect the average 5G download speed to equal approximately 10 times the speed of 4G.
Considering the significant speed and coverage boost 5G could provide, it makes sense that companies would rush to implement this next-generation infrastructure. But since people often compare the new network’s structure to Wi-Fi, what will 5G infrastructure actually look like?
You can find answers to this and other common questions about the future of 5G right here.
How Does 5G Work?
As you might know, cell phones use radio frequency signals to communicate with cell towers. Current 4G networks use relatively low radio frequencies compared to 5G networks, which take advantage of the extremely high frequencies opened up by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for civilian use in 2016.
The high frequencies provide many improvements over 4G. They allow faster connections, support more devices without bandwidth problems, and have the ability to operate nearby other signals without as much interference.
For us, 5G means faster speeds and the ability to connect more devices than 4G currently accommodates. As a result, many people predict 5G will accelerate the development of more interconnected devices, such as smart home appliances, security systems and even self-driving cars.
Unfortunately, 5G still has some downsides. In particular, the high radio frequencies 5G uses aren’t able to travel as far as current 4G wavelengths. Furthermore, they struggle to move through objects. This means 5G will require an enormous expansion of current cell tower infrastructure in order to function.
How Will 5G Use New Cell Towers?
In order to provide 5G service on a large scale, carriers will need to add at least 250,000 new small cell sites nationwide. However, though these small cell technologies perform similar functions, they’re not your typical cell tower.
While most current cell towers are large, freestanding behemoths, the cell towers of the future are smaller devices which companies aim to mount onto lampposts, rooftops, traffic lights and other appropriate spots around cities and towns.
Because 5G uses shorter radio wavelengths, the towers needed to pick them up can be smaller than their predecessors. This makes them easier to place in great numbers. However, these new cell towers are also causing conflict between telecom companies and local governments and municipalities, since they need to be installed on a large amount public property.
The location and appearance of new 5G cell sites in your area will likely depend on your local government’s negotiations with service providers — unless, of course, you live in one of the 13 states which have passed legislation restricting local oversight of 5G infrastructure.
Will Traditional Cell Towers Be Replaced?
The answer to this question, at least for now, remains “no.” It seems most traditional cell phone towers will remain active for the foreseeable future.
Some carriers will upgrade existing cell towers for use with 5G signals, effectively integrating current infrastructure into the new system. These existing towers could especially help transmit signals through rural locations where very few objects stand in the way.
However, it’s important to note that existing cell towers may also continue transmitting 4G signals to areas without 5G service. Though companies expect 5G to increase coverage overall, 5G won’t launch everywhere immediately.
Urban areas, like the cities companies are currently using as test sites for the technology, will likely benefit from 5G before more rural areas. Some communities with very low populations may not see 5G service for some time due to the high cost of setting up several smaller 5G “towers” to serve a low population area. Because of this, existing cell towers and other communication infrastructure will remain essential for keeping people connected to the rest of the world.
Eventually, it’s possible that cell phone towers will become obsolete. After all, some companies are already developing direct device-to-device mobile connections, which could eliminate the need for bulky cell phone towers altogether. Whatever the future holds, the transition will occur slowly.
What Does 5G Have in Store for the Future?
The widespread switch to 5G wireless connection could alter many aspects of the digital and physical landscape. As cell towers become smaller and more omnipresent, we’ll likely also see the development of increasingly sophisticated mobile phones and phone apps that take advantage of faster download speeds and stronger broadband connections.
As for what comes beyond 5G? For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.