Think about 5G like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. But in this case the meteor is 5G, and the dinosaurs are traditional telecommunication and cable companies. 5G has the potential to revolutionize how we buy TV, phone, Internet, and mobile service while opening up new possibilities to the general population. 5G is basically just wireless service, just like you buy for your current phone, but much, much faster. In fact it has the potential to be so fast that it could deliver a gigabit (1 Gbps) of data per second with much lower latency than 4G/LTE technology today. 5G transmission rates for business or future residential use could reach as high as 10 Gbps for a single connection. A gigabit is more than enough to send TV service wirelessly while also allowing an entire household to talk, stream, and play on the same connection. But unlike WiFi, it works from virtually anywhere.
Potential Benefits of 5G
Increased Competition, Lower Prices
Most government regulations allow for one cable and one DSL line running to a single home. The justification for these laws is that it prevents infrastructure from exploding and becoming unmanageable. Without any regulations, power lines could collapse from the weight, and there would be an unknown number of TV and phone lines running to any home. The unfortunate result is that cable and phone companies have either a duopoly or monopoly on Internet and (especially) TV service in any given market. Time Warner Cable and Comcast, for example, will never compete for the same home, and Verizon and AT&T never compete for DSL or fiber to the same home. Ultimately that means large service providers can charge you whatever they think you will pay for service.
Customers like you benefit when many companies have to compete for your money. In a 5G world, there might be 4 or 5 companies that all want you to buy their TV/Internet service. Because they don’t have to run lines to your house the cost to offer service will be lower, meaning they’ll have even more room to compete on price or better service. Even existing land-based providers will be forced to lower prices in response to 5G competitors. 5G is very likely to lead to better service, lower prices, and more options.
Some customers can already bundle their TV, Internet, and cell phone service, but only if they have the right carrier and live in the right area. AT&T, for example, does offer a TV product called U-verse, but it’s not available to most people. And if you want a cell phone provider like T-Mobile, you don’t have an option for T-Mobile TV, and there’s no Internet provider you can bundle with. Long story short: you don’t have a lot of options today for mixing or matching service, and most customers can’t bundle their cell service even if they want to.
5G promises more simplicity or more flexibility depending on how much time and money you want to spend. If you want TV through AT&T and Internet through Verizon, that would suddenly be possible. And, if you are tired of paying your cable company and cell phone bill separately, there’s suddenly an option to bundle it all up with your mobile provider.
New Entertainment Mediums
3D movies and virtual reality games exist, but they’re still new. Many media companies and game makers are hesitant to start producing (very expensive) content that only a few people can enjoy. While hardware like Oculus Rift is projected to sell lots of VR headsets, they’ve only recently begun shipping the devices to customers. So where does 5G fit into this? To play VR smoothly, you either need a lot of computing power or a ton of bandwidth (internet speed). So far, the customer’s hardware has had to do most of the work. That makes sense, because gigabit Internet connections are still rare. As a result, all current VR content is designed to be used in your home
Part of what makes 5G so exciting is its potential for low latency (low lag). 5G unlocks the potential to use VR anywhere. At a potential 1-10 Gbps, developers might start leaning more towards charging users to use their supercomputers and then shipping the data to your device. Which device? Any of them. Including your phone. Augmented reality games suddenly seem realistic. Imagine running through the streets with a mobile phone and headset fighting off zombies. Games have already done a good job adapting to the environment. What if you could set your field of play anywhere, and experience a horror movie in a few rooms of your own house? All of these are far-distant entertainment options, but 5G is one technology that could make it possible.
Potential Downsides to 5G
High Initial Price
Expect for early 5G packages to be expensive. Because gigabit service is still rare, 5G can be treated like a premium commodity, especially for high-bandwidth service with TV. Carriers also need to recover their research and development costs, plus the costs of upgrading their networks. Make no mistake about it – those upgrades will cost them billions, and they’re going to look for every penny they can to recover costs.
Still, early adopters with money to spare will be happy to pay for superior service. Over time we expect the cost of 5G plans will fall dramatically as equipment becomes cheaper to make and carrier recover their network upgrade costs.
5G runs at high frequencies, which makes it ideal for delivering a lot of data quickly. High frequencies also mean it’s harder for the signal to travel very far, and it’s not as good at passing through obstacles like walls, buildings, trees, etc. 5G carriers will likely need more towers, and you may need some kind of external antenna to pick up the signal. For many, a receiver slapped on a window will probably work just fine. From there the signal will be routed inside the house and boosted, probably as a standard WiFi signal. Setting up new 5G service for inside your house will probably be a little harder than swapping out your SIM card.
5G Rollout/Release Dates and 5G Providers
In the US, Verizon and AT&T are both working hard to be the first to market with 5G service. Verizon seems to be slightly ahead, with a planned rollout date of 2017. Industry analysts are skeptical the technology will be ready by then, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a rollout in mid-to-late 2017 for select markets – places like New York, Los Angeles, and Houston. For its part, AT&T has subtly mocked the 2017 rollout date, saying they “appreciate Verizon’s optimism,” but don’t expect anyone to really be ready until 2020 or later.