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The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Tech with Theo: 5G

By Theo Miller

Staff Writer

It has only taken half a decade, but 5G cell service is finally here. Kind of. December saw the launch of T-Mobile’s nationwide network upgrade and February brought Verizon’s 5G to Miami in time for the Superbowl. Our billboards and TVs have been plastered with advertisements and promises of how 5G will change our lives, without actually committing to meaningful change.

So what is 5G?

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Put simply, there is no central definition for what 5G is. 5G is not a regulated term, so whatever carrier you have, 5G is just “the next step” for their networks. The problem is, because no one can agree on what 5G is, each carrier’s 5G offering is fundamentally different from each other, to the point where comparing 5G options is almost like comparing apples and french fries. 

What do I need to know about 5G?

There are three core technologies that carriers are calling “5G”. The fastest of these is Millimeter Wave 5G (mmWave), like what Verizon is focusing on. This technology carries the most data at high frequencies, meaning that while it is measurably faster than 4G and other 5G offerings, it also has a very limited range and can be blocked by something like a tree, or the rain, much less the inside of an office building. 

T-Mobile, on the other hand, is using “low band” 5G, which travels much farther and penetrates buildings much better than LTE, but at the expense of speed. Low band is roughly the same speed as the cell service you have now, which Verizon has targeted in their ad campaigns. The benefit of this should be obvious, though. T-Mobile has by far the largest 5G network, adding coverage state by state as opposed to city by city, as other carriers have to. 

Then there is the technology that splits the difference between the two. Mid-band 5G uses slightly higher energy waves to split the difference between speed and range. AT&T and Sprint use this mid-band for the majority of their 5G coverage and supplement with mmWave in dense urban cores, which hypothetically offers the best of both worlds. 

Will I need a new phone for 5G?

Yes. Most phones announced this year will support 5G, but very few from last year have the hardware needed to connect to the new network. Apple’s upcoming iPhone 12 line is expected to feature 5G support, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 family supports 5G across the board.

I already have 5G from AT&T. I got it almost a year ago.

Because 5G is an unregulated label, carriers can designate really anything as 5G, if they want to. So, in 2018, AT&T introduced something called 5GE. This is not 5G. 5GE is primarily marketing for LTE Advanced, a 4G technology which has been around for years. All major US carriers technically use “5GE” without the branding. That is why current phones simply were simply gifted ‘5G’ one morning. They weren’t. They physically do not have the capability for 5G, only better 4G. Currently, AT&T does not offer true 5G anywhere in Florida. 

Does 5G cause coronavirus?

Alright, quick 6th grade science lesson for certain individuals who need a refresher. COVID-19 is a virus. 5G is a wavelength of energy. Do either of these things correlate to each other? No, of course not. Coronavirus is totally independent of 5G, and these cell towers getting burnt down are not only crucial to modern infrastructure, but also very expensive. Please stop burning them down. Your neighbors will thank you. 

Is it as big of a deal as they say it is?

Well, sort of. 5G will change the world, but more so in ways you won’t directly notice. 5G is going to benefit more people behind the scenes. The servers that keep our favorite services running. Artificial Intelligence systems. First responders. Truckers. They are the true beneficiaries of 5G. All you may see is a faster download, but you’ll soon be feeling the effects of 5G without even realizing it.

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Tech with Theo: 5G