Updated on December 10, 2019
You might have heard a lot about 5G lately. Verizon is the first carrier to roll out this new technology, but it’s only launched in a handful of locations so far, leaving many wondering, “So… how does it work?”
What is 5G?
Before we explain how 5G works, let’s first explain what it is.
5G is the fifth generation of wireless broadband technology that won’t replace but will enhance your current 4G LTE connection. Think faster download speeds, less lag times and almost no buffering. It isn’t exclusive to mobile devices, though – home Internet users can also benefit from this new network.
How does 5G work?
There are three main elements that come together to create the network – spectrum, cell sites, and deep fiber.
5G carries information wirelessly through the electromagnetic spectrum, specifically the radio spectrum. Within the radio spectrum are varying levels of frequency bands, some of which are used for 5G data.
This may be a bit confusing, but there’s no need to worry. The important thing to know is different companies use different parts of the spectrum to transmit 5G data. Using one part of the spectrum over another impacts the speed of the connection and the distance it can cover.
Verizon has already secured a large amount of ultra-wide millimeter wave spectrum (mmWave), which makes speeds extra fast for those on the network.
In addition to spectrum, Verizon is building a bigger network of “small cells,” or low-power cell stations that cover small geographic areas. These sites will provide better wireless reception and higher speeds.
Lastly, deep fiber. Fiber optic networks are a type of high-speed wireline network offering improved speed, security and bandwidth. Fiber is also great for long distances, capable of traveling as far as 40 miles without losing signal strength.
Plus, there’s a lot of fiber optic cable behind a strong wireless network. That’s why Verizon is installing 37.2 million miles of it to strengthen their existing network and create a solid foundation for 5G.
With these three key elements working together, this new generation of high-speed service is quickly becoming a reality.
What are the benefits of 5G?
Now that you know what 5G consists of, let’s talk about what it brings to the table and why it’s a big deal.
On your mobile devices, it means quicker downloads, lower latency (the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points) and new experiences that haven’t been fully invented yet, like alternate reality technology. In your home, it means ultra-fast Internet and a broadband alternative to standard cable and phone companies.
Quicker download speeds, also referred to as “Flash Loading,” is one of the biggest benefits of 5G. Something that used to take minutes to download will now take seconds. Users will see huge differences while streaming music and videos, gaming, and sending and receiving files.
In addition to faster download speeds, 5G is expected to provide lower latency. As mentioned above, latency is the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points. Right now, the 4G LTE network has a latency of less than 100 milliseconds. However, 5G expects latency to be less than 30 milliseconds. That means you’ll experience ultra-low lag times and virtually no buffering when gaming, streaming music, and watching videos online.
Along with lower latency on our personal devices, remote control of heavy machinery will now become a reality. 5G will allow technicians to control machinery from anywhere in the world with virtually no lag time. This can seriously reduce risk in hazardous environments, save time and allow things to operate more efficiently.
It has even been predicted that self-driving cars will benefit from this new service. The self-driving technology can more efficiently communicate with GPS satellites and other cars on the road, creating a safer experience for the passengers and nearby drivers.
5G will also capable of supporting up to 1 Million devices per square kilometer when it’s fully launched. Carriers are already running out of LTE capacity in many major metropolitan areas and experiencing slowdowns during busy times of the day. 5G will alleviate these problems in bigger cities and highly crowded areas like sporting events, concerts and festivals.
It’s been nearly a decade in the making, but this new, state-of-the-art technology is finally becoming a reality.
Can I use the 5G network right now?
Currently, there are two factors that determine if you can use the new network: phone compatibility and location.
5G phones require different hardware from that used by current 4G phones, which means existing mobile devices unfortunately cannot be upgraded with a simple software download.
However, compatible devices are currently available with more being released soon.
Here are some 5G-ready devices:
Unfortunately, the new network is not available everywhere – yet. There aren’t exact timelines for when cities will get 5G Ultra Wideband because engineers are still building the networks in those cities, but providers are moving quickly.
Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband is currently available on compatible devices in 10+ cities, including:
- Atlanta, GA
- Boise, ID
- Boston, MA
- Chicago, IL
- Dallas, TX
- Denver, CO
- Des Moines, IA
- Detroit, MI
- Houston, TX
- Indianapolis, IN
- Minneapolis, MN
- New York City, NY
- Omaha, NE
- Panama City, FL
- Phoenix, AZ
- Providence, RI
- Sioux Falls, SD
- St. Paul, MN
- Washington, D.C.
In addition to these cities, Verizon has partnered with the NFL to bring 5G Ultra Wideband to 13 stadiums around the country, including:
- MetLife Stadium (New York Giants & New York Jets)
- Soldier Field (Chicago Bears)
- Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Dolphins)
- Gillette Stadium (New England Patriots)
- Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts)
- NRG Stadium (Houston Texans)
- U.S. Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings)
- CenturyLink Field (Seattle Seahawks)
- Ford Field (Detroit Lions)
- M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens)
- Empower Field at Mile High (Denver Broncos)
- Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers)
Verizon also plans to launch the 5G network in 30+ more cities in 2019, including:
- Charlotte, NC
- Cincinnati, OH
- Cleveland, OH
- Columbus, OH
- Kansas City, MO
- Little Rock, AK
- Memphis, TN
- Salt Lake City, UT
- San Diego, CA
5G Home Internet is currently available in Houston, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Indianapolis. Customers are experiencing typical speeds around 300 Mbps and, depending on location, max speeds up to 940 Mbps.
Though 5G phones don’t work on the current 5G Home Network being used in these four cities, future 5G Ultra Wideband networks are being built using the industry standard that supports both 5G Mobile and future 5G Home equipment.