5G: The Latest Shiny Object Still Needs Some Polish

We have been inundated with information about 5G phones recently. Is it the new shiny object we need right now? The short answer is no.

Telcos have been touting their 5G networks, and cell manufacturers are touting their new 5G phones. Some articles rave about how 5G will be a game-changer. We have mentioned before in our Tech Law Weekly newsletter that conspiracy theorists have protested against or destroyed 5G towers fearing they cause everything from cancer to covid.

5G is a new radio communications technology that is faster than the current 4G cellphone speeds, and more importantly, has lower latency. Latency refers to the time it takes for a packet of information to arrive at its destination after it is sent. Lower latency doesn’t mean much when sending a text, but it can be life-saving if used for vehicle safety communications.

Cutting through the hype, I’ve gleaned that:

  • The 5G provided now is really 5G lite. True 5G isn’t available yet.

  • 5G coverage is not yet as extensive as 4G. Depending on where you are, you may not get much 5G service on your phone.

  • 5G does not have nearly the range as 4G. Telcos can’t simply add 5G equipment to their existing 4G towers – they need many more access points.

  • 5G frequencies don’t penetrate buildings like 4G does.

  • 5G’s biggest promise is not for smartphones, it really shines for any application that requires instant communication. Safety systems being contemplated for cars is a good example, if cars can communicate between themselves or between the car and traffic systems or sensors, instantaneous communication of large volumes of data can be crucial to avoid accidents.

  • At some point, 5G cellphones promise apps with things like augmented reality and more immersive sporting events – but we are not there yet.

I’m not dissing 5G – we are just at the early tech adoption chicken and egg situation. In the long run, 5G will probably lead to a lot of innovation. Telcos and device manufacturers are investing a lot of money in it, and they understandably want to recoup that investment and use 5G as a promotional tool.

But for now, there are no killer 5G smartphone apps that merit buying a new 5G phone if your current one works fine. And probably won’t be for a few years. If you are replacing your new phone now anyway, it’s probably not worth paying a premium for 5G – unless you have FOMO.

If you need a new phone, and the one you want has 5G, go for it. Just don’t expect it to be able to do tricks to impress your friends – at least not yet. Maybe your next phone after that.

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