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You may have heard that 5G is going to change everything. That it's going to enable the next 10 years of wireless innovation and completely upend how we use our mobile devices. That everything from watches to VR headsets to cars and even hospital operating rooms will be powered by ultra-low-latency wireless networks with enough bandwidth to negate the need for wired connections.

5G is coming, but it's less about phones than the sensors phones communicate with.

If you've been following along with the 5G hype narratives from companies like Qualcomm, Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Verizon, T-Mobile and others that have considerable skin in the game, once the standard becomes ubiquitous, our lives will never be the same.

Much like the change from analog to digital networks, or from 2G to 3G, which introduced high(er)-speed mobile data to smartphones, 5G is expected to initiate a sea change of new technological possibilities when it arrives next year.

According to Qualcomm, the company most effusively pushing this narrative, 5G will be nothing short of "a unifying connectivity fabric for our society," a way for people to connect more intimately and for businesses to build dynamic experiences that will make them more productive and, ultimately, more profitable.

Blah, blah, blah — right? It's OK, I get it. I feel it, too. Even though we're a few months from companies like Verizon launching an actual 5G-powered home broadband service, and less than half a year from the first 5G-enabled mobile products, it's still unclear how the hyperbole, the relentless grandstanding, will change our lives. Because our lives are already upended. We do everything on our phones, and when we don't have super-fast LTE to facilitate those things, we fall back on the comforting ubiquity of Wi-Fi.

And, I mean, is 5G really necessary when all we're doing is scrollin', scrollin' through Instagram and sending a bajillion WhatsApp messages? Do we need super-fast networks to watch more YouTube, or unlimited bandwidth when we're just playing a couple rounds of Clash Royale?

The issue with 5G is that, aside from the odd frustrating experience with our carrier or our phone, it's difficult to perceive the improvements in something that hasn't amazed us yet, and the potential of something that's right now just a bunch of whitepapers and breathless marketing. Back in June, Qualcomm tried to get ahead of this narrative by putting together a document outlining the real-world changes we're sure to see out of 5G. It highlights vast improvements to agriculture efficiency — more wheat! — and more efficient public transit — fewer delays!

It preaches that shopping will be more personal, and that 5G will make augmented reality truly useful and even indispensable. And what about the average person? Faster networks with unlimited bandwidth at ultra-low costs, with the ability to capture, share, and instantly upload 4K video or even high-resolution virtual reality footage. Others, like Huawei, say the same sorts of things. More connections! Lower latency! Faster signals! More! More!! More!!!

These things all sound super great, really, and I'm sure they will be. Even the technology behind the initial 5G standard, called 5G NR, is fascinating. In addition to existing low- and medium-range signals, it takes advantage of ultra-fast microwave signals (called millimeter waves) that are incredibly difficult to route along long distances, or through walls, or without major interference in general. The radios sending the signals need to be lower to the ground than existing cellphone towers, and there need to be more of them.

The signals, finicky things that they are, use a process called beamforming to essentially lock onto your phone and bend around objects. And when the signals do inevitably crash into things — buildings, cars, people — they have enough intelligence to use that interference to its advantage, breaking into pieces and reforming, Terminator-style, on the other side.

T-Mobile signed a $3.5 billion deal with Nokia to build out a massive 5G network in the U.S.

T-Mobile signed a $3.5 billion deal with Nokia to build out a massive 5G network in the U.S.

The amount of work that's gone into creating the 5G standard is extraordinary. The things that it can and will do are, too. But right now it's admittedly hard to see what all the fuss is about. The hype is enormous, and the expectations even more so, which makes it even more difficult for the stakeholders to follow through.

Most people just want faster speeds with higher data limits at a lower price. Businesses just want to make more money. City officials just want fewer road accidents and lower maintenance costs. Governments just want their networks to be reliable and secure.

One of 5G's major promises is real-time, high-quality roomscale VR, and that could be transformative. For some people.

One of 5G's major promises is real-time, high-quality roomscale VR, and that could be transformative. For some people.

Right now, it's hard to see how 5G will magically make everything better. That's OK, because right now it's just an idea, a promise of progress. When it finally does lurch toward its inevitable pervasiveness, it's less likely to wow us than encourage us to evaluate our relationships with the technology that we've come to take for granted. The phone is still the central thing in our lives, and that's not likely to change, but 5G promises a radio in everything, which will lead to more connectivity, more fragmentation and, like it or not, more frustration.

Early adopters like me, who are keenly following every 5G milestone, do not represent the average person. LTE's relatively seamless and transparent rollout — hey, my new phone is faster! — was, like all mobile innovations, concurrent with the rising popularity of apps and tools that were made possible. But whereas streaming video, and lots of it, will be LTE's legacy, it's not obvious to me, despite a plenitude of examples, how the average person will perceive 5G's abundance.

Which is why it's OK not to be hyped about 5G right now, because mobile data in all its forms is no longer meant to be exciting. It just is, and with that mundanity comes a narrowing of scope. 5G will be awesome, and it will be everywhere, but right now it's just a lengthening of an existing tendril.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

42 Comments
  • I just don't get A C anymore. In one article they ask us not to complain about notches and embrace them and in this one not to be hype wit 5G. Are they secretly asking us to move to iPhone?
  • I'm actually telling you the opposite. I'm telling you to be hyped by 5G. If you're already there's that's great! As for the article about notches, one person's opinion does not represent everyone's on staff. We could have articles praising and criticizing notches in the very same day. That's why they're opinion pieces.
  • Johnny Dan😁😁😁😁😁. Well put
  • I'll get excited when I see speeds appreciably faster than what 4G LTE currently is, versus what it was advertised to be years ago. America's 4G speeds are relatively slow, and I'm not getting my hopes up for 5G NR yet because of it.
  • I am more worried about the latency. Speeds are fine as is (for most tasks and people). The latency is what really makes the difference. 
  • Are you excited for the health problems that'll be caused by 5G?
  • Could it be yep...but I take every thing with a grain of salt...
    First butter was bad for you, then it wasn't bad for you, then it's back to bad for you...ETC They been saying it's been bad since 2003 cellphone wireless signals. And honestly it's going to take years of studies to see if 5G is bad for you or not. This is about how awful 3g was...
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3157676.stm
  • Margarine is bad for period, butter isn't
  • I live in the UK, 3 and 4G needs to be sorted before they even think about 5G, but it won't be. network providers will work on 5G then when the next big things comes, they will move onto that before 5G is working correctly. Then you got people saying about 5G causing cancer and other sorts of health issues, but this all comes from the U.S and people in this country seems to listen and take notice of this nonsense. like the nonsense about smart meters.
    What makes me laugh is that they say about all this cancer causing equipment and yet these same people have Wi-fi and still use their mobile phone. If I thought it was that bad i would not even have a mobile phone or Wi-fi.
  • Lol like 1 person stop using a phone is going to magically make all those waves flying back and forth in the air stop causing the perceived cancer... 
  • I totally agree dude living in the UK, it's almost a different world compared to the U.S & possibly Canada, Daniel... ? !
  • Not excited about mobile 5G but home 5G will be amazing
  • All I see, like you said, is people getting their instagram feeds faster and less paying attention to roads while driving.
  • You can pay more attention to your driving since the page will load faster!
  • I am hyped for 5g for the mobile broadband aspect. Maybe now we will finally have some competition in this area (as shown by the $50 launch of some carriers). It will be interesting to see what verizon and T-mo end up charging for home broadband. I know at least with verizon and their FIOS, it is much cheaper than comcast (unfortunately I am stuck in a comcast only area). 
  • Yeah, I'm pumped for the competition that will come with the introduction of 5G mobile broadband. Comcast and Verizon both need a huge kick in the pants here in Pennsylvania. Comcast's prices keep creeping up, and their plans keep altering in ways that push people toward the more expensive plans. But FiOS still isn't cheaper in my area. The actual plan is about $10/mo cheaper, but Verizon imposes more monthly fees than Comcast does, and you *have* to lease a modem from them, whereas I'm using an old $50 SURFboard with Comcast. And Verizon's cheaper pricing is contingent upon a 1- or 2-year contract, which isn't the case with Comcast.
  • I'm usually on WiFi anyway. IF anything, "5G Residential Wireless" would serve me better, and it's set to arrive by year end. I think a Snapdragon X16 (1 Gbps), X20 (1.2 Gbps) or X24 (2 Gbps) LTE modem will be more than sufficient for years to come.
  • Talk about out of touch with the adult real world, "And, I mean, is 5G really necessary when all we're doing is scrollin', scrollin' through Instagram and sending a bajillion WhatsApp messages? Do we need super-fast networks to watch more YouTube, or unlimited bandwidth when we're just playing a couple rounds of Clash Royale?" This 5G is more for all of the devices, and not just for you and your social media habits.... Especially with autonomous cars and more smart home type devices, the increased speeds (and less latency) will be huge... Can't believe someone writing for AC cannot see this... Then again this site has gone down hill since Phil departed. 
  • This so much this....5g will enable technology to communicate a lot faster i e smart cars, driverless cars, ETC and his clickbait article of waterproof phone about 8 hours ago there's no such thing as a waterproof phone.. water-resistant yes waterproof no.. . But I digress
  • With all due respect, I think you're missing my point. I say many times in this piece that 5G isn't just about phones, and that it's extremely exciting, innovative and potentially life-changing. But I'm also saying that right now companies are going to have a difficult time proving that to people who may use their devices for more casual matters. Pretty sure Phil, who hasn't gone anywhere, would agree with me here.
  • Lol you think people are going to need to be proven about 5G? LOL. The marketing alone will be enough to make people *Want* it, these companies are not going to have to prove anything, just use "faster than 4G" and people will automatically want it for being the next big thing. 
  • Daniel for what it's worth I love you & Phil in a non gay way! Kind regards as ALWAYS Richard U.K
  • This is important because it adds another technology to the consumer market which will drive internet access costs lower for home use. For home, the "average" person can enjoy their internet via their cable company, DSL, or FiOS. The Wireless carrier option is not good enough. However, the promise of 5G through the wireless carrier, is. I don't take tech bloggers seriously. After all, they're just storytellers. They don't make anything. They don't run a business. What exactly do they do? A few years ago, they all told us that if we force the carriers to drop their subsidy plans, our monthly costs would be lower. LOL...are you monthly costs lower? Lately they tell us that doomsday will happen if Net Neutrality is gone. LOL...has it happened yet? NOW...we are being told to not get excited with 5G? LOL...I think a good rule of thumb is if a tech blogger tells us one thing, the opposite happens.
  • Appreciate the nuanced comment, V.
  • "This is important because it adds another technology to the consumer market which will drive internet access costs lower for home use." To be fair, the same was said about 3g and 4g. Realistically it's not true.There's a stranglehold on the industry. It's not going to change anytime soon given that the same corporations still hold a noose around it's neck. The only time the cost will change is if by some miracle a new upstart company improves the next generation with some form of heretofore unimagined technology. 5G is definitely not that.  
  • Eh actually with 3g and 4g there was not as much emphasis on home broadband. We can already see this is not the case (T-Mo and the other carrier I believe US cellular talked about launching home broadband, along with verizon). That alone is already more competition than most have.  With cord cutting and more companies wanting to get into the mix, I could see more competition coming to more areas, and at the minimum, allowing users to at least have multiple viable choices (which is the opposite of now which in many cases there is only 1 real viable option for home broadband).
  • You wrote ***And, I mean, is 5G really necessary when all we're doing is scrollin', scrollin' through Instagram and sending a bajillion WhatsApp messages? Do we need super-fast networks to watch more YouTube, or unlimited bandwidth when we're just playing a couple rounds of Clash Royale?**** How out-of-touch can you be?
    Is that all that 5G is going to do in your little world? And you're a tech writer....... and a tech analyst for CBCnews and ctvnews? 5G will enable Smart devices and driverless cars a huge step forward.
    With less lag. Smart devices and other technology that relies on fast internet connection. 5G will be a shot in the arm 5g in some instances will be a thousand times faster than 4G in speed.. *shake my head*
  • Sigh. I am actually agreeing with you. See my comment above. I do think 5G will be completely life-changing. My argument is that people aren't going to realize it until it's already happened. But thanks for reading critically, always appreciate the conversation.
  • It's going to be Health changing as well
  • That's still debatable.
  • "Faster networks with unlimited bandwidth at ultra-low costs" LOL. Tell that to people living in rural areas with 7 mbps DSL. Are we really restricted by technology or by corporate greed? What make you think companies will suddenly install new infrastructure for 5G when they wouldn't even do it for 4G or cable broadband?
  • What I'm taking away from reading the comments is most of you did not in fact read past the first paragraph or two. He clearly states in the article that he does not represent the vast majority of people and no where does he say it won't have a huge affect on our lives. He nearly states that the average person who just uses a phone to social media and to watch silly videos on YouTube won't be excited about 5G. It means little to someone who isn't entirely engrossed in technology. I get excited about this stuff and I can clearly tell the author is as well. What he is saying is it's ok for people to not be excited because it hasn't been shown to them how amazing it can be. Tech people live in a world of "what tomorrow will bring" and the other average person, like your "grandma" who just uses a phone for everyday mundane things won't care so long as it continues to work.
  • 5G doesn’t matter. LTE is fast enough and anything more than that doesn’t matter thanks to data limitations. Moving more things to 5G is just a way for carriers to dig themselves deeper into your bank accounts.
  • Im on sprint i dont expect anything from them 4g is horrible and im in powder springs ga
  • Daniel, this article was intended to sell phones today, $1000 phones most people will have for a few years that don't support the next wireless standard. 2019 phones will be somewhat future profroofed by having 5G modems. Do not buy any 2018 phones, wait for 2019. Networks in Canada are better than America... But 5G limitations will require essentially every home to be a tower, sorta like WiFi. 5G signals don't like walls, etc....
  • There's no point if you get even 10G but the qoutas is only 5gb data max. 🙄
  • I can already stream 1440p without buffering. I'll never say no to faster download speeds but I've reached the point where I don't feel I need them.
  • 5G been available here in Japan for while now, it's hype and nothing more. The only thing we have gained is a new icon on the status bar, nothing more.
  • Nonsense. Tell me one mobile manufacturer that sells a 5G modem. That's right, the answer is zero. A couple of companies might have 5G in their office buildings like WiFi... But that would be it.
  • I agree in full with the article. I had a grand fathered unlimited plan with the catch I didn't get 4g on it. It was fine as my phone didn't support 4g. Got a new phone and wondered what I was missing and once they upgraded my old plan and gave me 4g, with a price bump to try and force me away, it turned out it wasn't that much. I don't stream a lot of media, so going beyond 10 mbit or so didn't really lead to a great revolution. Instead issues with latency and "lagg" became more common. Now on my current phone I have the fancy 4g+ and it sure goes fast, when it has good coverage. But beyond that, I could probably live my life happily on 3g.
  • Good article, though I do have to disagree with this, “LTE's relatively seamless and transparent rollout...” - clearly you weren’t with Verizon when they basically beta tested LTE on their users with the Thunderbolt. ;)
  • Those days were fun lol. Pretty much all of the first gen LTE devices on verizon were battery hogs and did not last at all.