As the 5G landscape gradually takes shape over the next couple of years, there are several converging factors that will determine how mobile device users will be impacted by the new system. Each of these factors depends on the others, yet they are advancing at different rates, making it difficult to see just how everything will work together once consumers begin adopting and using 5G technologies. It’s likely that user experiences will vastly differ for several years depending on the density of 5G infrastructure in different geographical areas and the availability of compatible devices. In most cases, however, 5G will reside alongside and in conjunction with existing 4G equipment, which should ease the transition.
The three main factors that will affect the extent to which users will be able to take advantage of 5G are the availability of the 5G service itself in various locations, the availability of 5G compatible equipment, and the proliferation of applications and other services that make use of 5G capabilities.
Obstacles to 5G rollout
Upgrading the mobile network infrastructure to a new generation is no easy task, especially to one as drastically different as 5G. In addition to the ordinary regulatory and business-related pitfalls associated with such an undertaking, 5G presents some rollout challenges of its own. The short wavelength of 5G signals requires more transmission towers, which are packed more closely together. This means not only a longer rollout time but also that availability will be initially limited to dense urban areas in major cities. Some countries, in fact, have not even begun the 5G transition.
Also, towers must be built closer to users to enable the high frequency signals to overcome various physical obstacles, further complicating the process due to zoning, permit, and space restrictions. There are also unresolved health concerns with regard to the close proximity of the high-energy signals. Some countries and municipalities have temporarily delayed (or are in the process of doing so) 5G projects until more definitive research into the health effects of 5G millimeter-wave signals has been conducted. This all means the deployment of 5G will be largely asymmetrical for at least several years.
What about my phone?
Although the introduction of 5G service in the US is in its infancy, with spotty service in a few major cities, some big players in the smartphone market have recently released or announced 5G enabled devices. The Motorola Moto Z3 can already be used in Verizon’s very limited 5G coverage area with a separate attachment. Samsung has announced a Galaxy s10 5G version. Huawei’s groundbreaking foldable Mate X and LG’s v50 ThinQ will also be available this year and compatible with 5G. Others, including Xiaomi, will also be releasing 5G phones. Users are anticipating the release of a standard Huawei 5G phone to complement the more expensive Mate X, as well as a OnePlus 5G version. The biggest question is when and how Apple will enter the market. Indications seem to point to 2020 for a 5G iPhone release.
The high speed and low latency of 5G mean more and faster features for smartphones, including real-time augmented reality and virtual reality experiences that were not previously practical. But there is a three-way chicken-and-egg scenario playing out, where advanced 5G-capable smartphones with revolutionary applications will be wasted in areas where 5G is years from becoming a reality. Consumers will have to play close attention to the availability of both services and devices in their local areas before diving head-first into the 5G pool.