Illustration: Sarah Grillo, Rebecca Zisser/Axios
The next generation of mobile networks will make or break the big tech ideas of the future, allowing each one to be field-tested at scale and checked off as a revolution or a dud.
Why it matters: Autonomous vehicles, smart homes, smart cities, "Internet of Things" devices, virtual and augmented reality — 5G will carry this raft of new technologies out of the labs and into our streets and homes, weaving the internet into the fabric of daily life.
Between the lines: Yes, 5G will mean faster data on phones. But it will also pave the way for billions of connected devices — everything from sensors that can measure water levels to surgery done remotely over the internet.
5G offers three upgrades to its predecessor, today's 4G (or LTE) networks:
- Minimal delay, or low latency, for real-time applications like gaming or remote piloting.
- Long battery life, for those days when you can't find a charger — and for devices that need to sit untended in the field.
- High speeds, for no-wait viewing of high-definition video and transfers of enormous hunks of data.
The big picture: 5G will take a long time to roll out. It's as easy to overestimate this transformation in the near term as it is to underestimate its impact over 5 to 10 years — just as, 10 years ago, it was hard to believe that the last generations of network-tech upgrades would make streaming anywhere, navigation everywhere, ride sharing, and mobile transactions our new normal.
What’s next: In the same way that 4G led to a never-forecast world of Uber, Spotify, and Square, we don’t know what new companies and services 5G will inspire.
- And the providers don’t care. They’ve learned that their job is to keep creating new technical realities that entrepreneurs and engineers will inevitably explore and exploit.
The bottom line: Last time around, the arrival of a new network generation moved the internet off our desktops and into our palms and pockets. This time, it will transform the network from something we carry around to something that carries us around.
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