Why isn’t 5G rolling out faster?
Internet | 23 January 2019
5G: It’s the next big thing.
The successor to today’s 4G LTE cellular network, 5G (NR) promises to revolutionise the way we connect to the internet.
5G offers numerous benefits over today’s standard network, including the promise of an insane speed upgrade compared to 4G. The hype is huge.
That sounds great but why can’t I use it yet?
5G service isn’t available anywhere yet, and when it does start showing up (probably starting in mid to late 2019 in the USA), the rollout will be limited.
Here are a few reasons why it’s taking a while to roll out 5G.
Scaling the underlying tech
The technology behind 5G is developed. We know what the standard will look like and how it will work. But it takes time and lots of money to scale the technology. Once the standard and specifications are established, electronics manufacturers have to develop the chips that go into our smartphones, figure out how to produce them at a cost-effective level, and scale up production so they can produce millions of them in a short timespan. And the same process goes for the technology needed for upgrades to mobile phone towers, support systems, and every other piece of the infrastructure puzzle.
Building out the network
4G LTE is available almost everywhere now. But that wasn’t always the case. When 4G was new, only users in the largest, most prosperous cities could use it. Deploying all this new tech across entire continents is mind-bogglingly expensive. Providers just can’t afford to do it all at once.
The bottom line is that once 5G arrives, it’s going to hit the business centres of the biggest cities first, and it will expand from there.
Challenges of using the higher-frequency spectrum
If you have a dual-band Wi-Fi router at home, try this experiment. Connect to your 2.4GHz band, and see how far away from your router you can stay connected. Then do the same with your 5GHz network. Your speeds are way faster on the 5GHz band, but your range is lower.
5G uses a much higher frequency portion of the radio spectrum than 4G LTE does. So it suffers from the same trouble that the higher frequency of your home network does. It doesn’t penetrate objects (walls, desks, people) as well. Providers will overcome this by rolling out many signal-boosting devices in high-density populations. But this, too, will take time.
Your devices themselves are the last hurdle. As of January 2019, no home devices exist that can connect to the 5G standard network. Device manufacturers are scrambling to meet this demand, and it’s likely that the first consumer devices with 5G modems will arrive in late 2019.
We’re all excited to start using 5G, but it’s not quite here yet. The challenges of scaling the tech, building the network, and creating devices that can access it will begin to be solved over the course of 2019. Until then, we wait.