For quite a while now, people have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of 5G networks. The idea of faster and more reliable wireless connections is naturally tantalizing, and even if 4G and modern Wi-Fi are perfectly adequate for most purposes, it’s hard not to want a little more. But the arrival of 5G — which has begun in earnest in 2020 — is not just about minor conveniences or slight speed upgrades. It’s actually a fascinating tech development with wide-ranging implications across various facets of modern life.
With that idea in mind, I want to discuss some of the most interesting and important things to know about 5G networks.
1) They’re (Basically) Here
I noted that it’s been a while that people have been anticipating 5G’s arrival, as well as that this arrival began in earnest in 2020. So I want to stress again that 5G networks are basically here! This is no longer a future concept we have to wait for, but rather an ongoing rollout by major providers that will soon lead to coverage throughout most of the United States.
Recent updates on 5G availability suggest that a number of major cities are already thoroughly covered, and the likes of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile & Sprint, Comcast, Mint Mobile, and more are working on various versions of nationwide rollouts. You might not be able to access a network just yet, but this won’t be a long wait anymore. 5G is upon us.
2) 5G Will Bring About Self-Driving Cars
If it seems like we’ve been eagerly anticipating 5G for a little while, it’s nothing to how long it feels like we’ve been waiting for self-driving cars. Not only are vehicles like these something of a long-established sci-fi concept — they’ve also seemed like impending realities really since the earliest electric vehicles, or at least the beginnings of Tesla as we now know it.
There has been notable progress toward self-driving cars. The technology exists and even functions properly in existing vehicles. But there remain a few problems in the way of truly road-ready autonomous vehicles, and 5G is likely to help solve them.
The most significant development is going to be 5G-based communication that enables self-driving cars to “talk” to each other more quickly and reliably. While these vehicles are already equipped with various types of cameras and sensors that allow them to understand and adapt to their surroundings, car-to-car communication has been something of a sticking point. And with robust 5G networks, the problem can be solved almost entirely.
Whether or not this results in road-ready and road-approved autonomous vehicles remains to be seen. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that 5G may prove to be the final piece to the self-driving puzzle.
3) 5G Has a Hardware Component
We think of 5G as this sprawling, invisible entity that will simply make our lives better with respect to internet and tech use. And in a way that’s just what it is! But one of the most important things about 5G is that it’s going to enable a more expansive and sophisticated Internet of Things, connecting devices and small sensors to bring about everything from smart cities and homes, to intelligent agriculture and climate preservation, to the self-driving cars I just wrote about.
This is only possible because of hardware, and specifically because of the most foundational building blocks of modern tech: printed circuit boards. Thanks to readily available software, more advanced design methods, and PCB designing tutorials that have all emerged in recent years, a greater network of amateurs and engineers around the world are constantly tweaking and perfecting circuit board construction. And in that effort, PCBs have advanced to a point of significant power and — more to our point here — connective ability.
So, while we think of the 5G as an invisible network, the truth is that it will also be pinging between millions of circuit boards around the world that are now equipped to handle and transmit wireless signals. The better these components get, the more useful 5G will be.
4) 5G May Make Virtual Reality What We Want It to Be
If you’re a little bit disappointed with VR so far, you’re not the only one. While some of the applications in high-end VR headsets are truly extraordinary, the medium as a whole isn’t quite the real-world sci-fi wonder it has sometimes been made out to be. But as with self-driving cars, 5G may prove to be the missing piece.
This more advanced wireless connectivity will eliminate latency issues in VR, allowing us to enjoy smoother and more realistic experiences, and also — crucially — allowing for social and multiplayer experiences in real time. The opportunity to link up with others remotely, within VR and with no lag or interruption, is a game-changer that will help VR reach more satisfying heights.
5) 5G Networks Come with Security Concerns
Despite the advanced nature of 5G and all the exciting things it will help to bring about, the networks aren’t necessarily reliably secure. While there is some talk of 5G ultimately resulting in safer and more secure connections, there are some vulnerabilities — from unmonitored IoT devices, to unencrypted transmissions, and so on.
For this reason, I would suggest that some of the same reliable VPNs people have gotten used to using with their home Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE connections will continue to be useful — if not necessary — during the transition to 5G. You can’t be too careful with online privacy and security!