Understand: 5G technology and where it's headed

KSAT News at 9 explains how 5G technology works

5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology that promises enhanced speeds, responsiveness and coverage of wireless networks. Experts say 5G is expected to revolutionize the workplace and enhance consumer experiences.

SAN ANTONIO – You may have heard of 5G. It's the fifth generation of cellular technology that promises enhanced speeds, responsiveness and coverage of wireless networks.

Experts say 5G is expected to revolutionize the workplace and enhance consumer experiences. But to understand that technology, we have to go back — way back.

“You may or may not have had a phone that a lot of us carried around in a briefcase. That was 1G. It was the first generation of mobile connectivity, analog voice. 2G was digital voice. It was simple data that we were being able to push, the beginning of the text message. It's a platform that, like, the old Blackberries ran off of,” said Scott Dunaway, spokesperson for the Texas 5G Alliance.

Then there was 3G, which is where we saw the entrance of the iPhone and consumers were able to surf the web on their phones.

When speeds really started to ramp up is with 4G, which was a faster mobile broadband. Companies such as Uber and Lyft became a reality with this new technology.

But how is 5G going to change the mobile landscape?

“When the 5G network is deployed, we're going to see the capacity for all of that data improve so that latency will be a thing of the past. Reliability will be a thing of the past,” Dunaway said.

Latency is the response time it takes for a request to travel from a sender to a receiver and for the receiver to process that request. 

“Think of it with 3G. The latency is about 60 thousands of seconds, 60 milliseconds. 4G was about 50 milliseconds. With 5G, it's going to be less than 1 millisecond,” said Dr. Babak Beheshti, professor and dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences at New York Institute of Technology and board member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The 5G technology will allow for possibilities that have up until now have only been tested. 

“Autonomous vehicles are expected to be the data giant of the future. How much they will process at any given moment to be sure that they're operating safely on our roads will be important, and 5G is going to be an important backbone to make that happen. That includes things like drone deliveries, things of the future that we're just now starting to see come to market,” Dunaway said.

5G isn't going to get here overnight, and it's going to take a lot of work and money for the technology to reach the entire nation. But major wireless carriers are already working to offer the technology to their customers.

“I would suspect in earnest, it will take until 2023 for really a widespread deployment of 5G beyond these major cities or pilot sites that these companies have initially focused on,” Beheshti said.

It's going to take the cooperation of cities to deploy small cells, which are devices that help bring connectivity closer to devices. They can be installed in things such as street lamps and existing street posts, but there’s a problem with that.

“Some street lamps have historic designations, and the companies have to work very closely with the cities to ensure that those are delicately handled and that they conform and that they've done it the right way for those communities,” Dunaway said.

While telecom companies work to establish 5G in the U.S., cities are preparing for the possibilities the technology will soon be able to achieve.

“In Texas, we hear a lot of our cities talk about being smart cities. I'm sure you guys hear the same thing in San Antonio. 5G will be the backbone of a smart city. I think that we'll see soon in the future that a smart city designation is really not a reality without a full 5G deployment,” Dunaway said.

To learn more about the Texas 5G Alliance, which offers expansive information about the new technology, click here

About the Authors:

Ivan Herrera has worked as a journalist in San Antonio since 2016. His work for KSAT 12 and KSAT.com includes covering breaking news of the day, as well as producing Q&As and content for the "South Texas Pride" and "KSAT Money" series.

Valerie Gomez is lead video editor and graphic artist for KSAT Explains. She began her career in 2014 and has been with KSAT since 2017. She helped create KSAT’s first digital-only newscast in 2018, and her work on KSAT Explains and various specials have earned her a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media and multiple Emmy nominations.