Ultra-Fast 5G Networks Are Coming: Release Date, Carriers, and Why It's Such a Big Deal

A new age of mobile browsing is almost here.

Cellular carriers and smartphone companies have been yammering about the impending roll out of high-speed 5G broadband technology for years. Wednesday, Samsung added to the chatter by announcing plans to release its Galaxy S10 5G smartphone in partnership with Verizon at its Unpacked event. The fifth generation wireless connectivity could enable gamers to play Fortnite Mobile on Samsung’s upcoming phone lag-free and usher in an era where anything can be internet-connected without worrying about saturating networks.

By now, we’ve all grown accustomed to the little LTE or 4G symbols at the top corner of our phone screens. They’ve been around since 2010, and the pair that has served us well will soon be replaced by a 5G, which is shorthand for fifth generation wireless broadband tech. This upgrade will be able to handle 1,000 times more traffic and be up to 50 times faster than the network we’re currently on. In terms of speed, the upgrades will be similar to the scale of improvements that accompanied the graduation from 3G to 4G.

So what makes this 5th generation so special? It has to do more with the ability to handle all that extra traffic. Fourth-generation broadband, or 4G, has just about reached its limit. The Internet of Things revolution has brought everything from light bulbs to microwaves online, and the current infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

5G is expected to not only remedy the problem of overburdened networks, but give rise to entirely new technologies like more autonomous driving, for example by enabling the A.I.s in different cars to communicate with one another wirelessly. This extra capacity is also expected to free consumers from being shackled to whatever carriers have build wireless infrastructure in their region.

smartphone teen
Waiting for a picture to load will be a thing of the past.

What Is 5G Exactly?

Think of 5G like modification you would add to a car or a computer to make it multitudes faster and more efficient than they once were. The Federal Communications Commission, the agency in charge of establishing and regulating 5G infrastructure, is essentially attaching backpack-sized, antennas cells to existing cellular towers across the country. These units beam the high-frequency signals that will enable never-before-seen internet speeds.

The simplicity of 5G antenna design is one the tech’s biggest assets. No new cell towers or underground fibre optic networks need to be constructed. This is an economical solution to improve speeds in cities and deliver wireless connectivity to rural places that don’t have access to an urban internet infrastructure.

“Where you would traditionally put trench fiber many miles out to a home, you can hit that home using a narrow beam,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr previously told Inverse. “We’re working with funding to close the gap on 4G and I do think 5G is also going to play a role in getting G-level service out there to rural America.”

Companies, like Qualcomm, that will roll out mobile 5G modems have demonstrated break-neck speeds for future smartphones. The 5G-enabled Snapdragon 855 clocked a staggering 1.4 Gbps, compared to the 71 Mbps on regular 4G.

beamforming 5g
Diagram of how 5G will shoot individual users their own stream of data.

What New Tech Could 5G Enable?

5G will make your internet browsing and streaming faster, but it will also be the bedrock for technology that isn’t possible today, like connected cars. That’s because of its insanely low latency, or the delay of data to get from Point A to Point B.

“We want consumers here to benefit as quickly as possible,” says Carr. “For instance, take connected cars. We have about 40,000 highway deaths a year right now. If part of 5G is going to help get connected cars here faster, then moving [a month, a week, or a day] faster makes a big difference in terms of driving down that number.”

5G should offer consumers a maximum of 4-millisecond latency, according to a 2017 report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). At these rates, a network of connected cars or transit vehicles could communicate with each other to avoid accidents.

In 2017, the FCC laid out plans to intertwine automobiles on the road using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) radios, which would operate in the high-frequency, 5.9 GHz band. With more reliable latency, this idea isn’t as far-fetched anymore.

What Carriers Are Offering 5G?

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have already begun rolling out home broadband 5G plans in select cities. This will simply make your in-home wifi faster though not your mobile browsing speeds. But mobile 5G plans are on the horizon.

  • AT&T: On December 21, AT&T will activate its mobile 5G network in 12 cities. These include Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and Waco, Texas. The company announced it will support two 5G Samsung phones in 2019.
  • Verizon: On February 21, Verizon announced it would set up its mobile 5G network to 30 additional cities by the first half of 2019. It’s already rolled out its home service in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento giving homes wifi speeds of 300 Mbps to 1 Gbps. The carrier also has plans to enable the release of two 5G phones, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the Moto Z3 smartphone.
  • T-Mobile: The carrier’s mobile 5G rollout spanned 30 cities with New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Las Vegas the first. The company recently announced it had established 5G infrastructure in 37 states, spanning 1,500 cities that will enable nationwide coverage by 2020.