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AT&T, Verizon, and other carriers will start to launch 5G networks this year. But let's step back and review wireless progression.


  1. 1G was analog cellular.
  2. 2G technologies, such as CDMA, GSM, and TDMA, were the first generation of digital cellular technologies.
  3. 3G technologies, such as EVDO, HSPA, and UMTS, brought speeds from 200kbps to a few megabits per second. The networks are dropping 3G soon. Some now, the rest by next year. Those phones won't work.
  4. 4G technologies, such as WiMAX and LTE, were the next incompatible leap forward, and they are now scaling up to hundreds of megabits and even gigabit-level speeds.
  5. 5G brings three new aspects to the table: greater speed (to move more data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).
  6. 6G is undefined, but Trump is ready.

4G phones appeared in 2010 but significant apps did not come out for several years. Snapchat came out in 2012 and the Uber App appeared in 2013.

Verizon will initially use 5G as a home internet service. The other carriers are focused more on faster and more reliable smartphones.

5G Is (Barely) Real

PC Magazine notes 5G Is (Barely) Real

Verizon and AT&T both launched preliminary 5G services in late 2018, but neither is broadly available nor meaningful for much more than bragging rights. The real race to 5G, the new cellular system that will potentially transform our world, starts now.

Here's what we do have. Verizon has a "5G" home service in small parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, delivering fiber-like home internet speeds over wireless. AT&T is running friendly user trials with mobile hotspots in 12 cities, but it looks like it will be a few months before regular folks can buy and use the carrier's 5G hotspots.

The actual 5G radio system, known as 5G-NR, isn't compatible with 4G. But all 5G devices in the US, initially, will need 4G because they'll lean on it to make initial connections before trading up to 5G where it's available. That's technically known as a "non standalone," or NSA network. Later, our 5G networks will become "standalone," or SA, not requiring 4G coverage to work. But that's a few years off.

ATT started to call its 4G network "5G Evolution," because it sees improving 4G as a major step to 5G. It's right, of course. But the phrasing is designed to confuse less-informed consumers into thinking 5G Evolution is 5G, when it isn't.

Verizon's home service, which is a nonstandard form of 5G, has led its competitors to claim that it's not really 5G. But given that it offers multi-gigabit wireless speeds and will be swiftly transitioned over to the standard version, I'm willing to give Verizon a pass.

The goal is to have far higher speeds available, and far higher capacity per sector, at far lower latency than 4G. The standards bodies involved are aiming at 20Gbps speeds and 1ms latency, at which point very interesting things begin to happen.

Driverless Cars

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Driverless cars will use 5G in a big way. 5G will not be needed for a driverless launch but soon enough everything will be communicating with everything else.

The first generation of driverless cars will be self-contained, but future generations will interact with other cars and smart roads to improve safety and manage traffic. Basically, everything on the road will be talking to everything else.

To do this, you need extremely low latencies. While the cars are all exchanging very small packets of information, they need to do so almost instantly. That's where 5G's sub-one-millisecond latency comes into play, when a packet of data shoots directly between two cars, or bounces from a car to a small cell on a lamppost to another car. (One light-millisecond is about 186 miles, so most of that 1ms latency is still processing time.)

US Has No Plan

Trump is ready and so am I. Not so fast says Wired Magazine.

Wired believes China Will Corner the Market and the "US has no Plan".

China is on track to control most of the world's flow of high-capacity online services—the new industries, relying on the immediate communication among humans and machines, that will provide the jobs and opportunities of the future.

China's Belt and Road Initiative, supporting infrastructure and investment projects in nearly 70 countries, will have profound consequences for 40 percent of the world’s economic output. Crucially, each of the many trans-Eurasian rail lines that are part of this mammoth project will be accompanied by fiber-optic cables carrying impossibly huge amounts of data across thousands of miles without delay. According to Rethink Research, China is also planning to deploy fiber-optic connections to 80 percent of the homes in the country.

China's ambitious deployment of fiber will have several consequences. In communicating with Russia and Europe, it won’t have to rely on undersea fiber-optic cables running through the Indian Ocean that might be subject to surveillance by the US. Even more important, it will have access to a giant market of consumers and businesses across an enormous terrestrial area that ties Central Asia even more closely to Russia as well as China.

What’s new about China's massive deployment of fiber, both in its own territory and in its global market along its planned Belt and Road, is that China is likely to permit only 5G equipment made by Huawei and a handful of other Chinese companies to connect to that fiber.

You can bet that Huawei, already the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, will be looking for exclusivity in its geographic territories. And so Huawei, and perhaps a couple of other Chinese companies, will control which data-rich services (think logistics, telemedicine, education, virtual reality, telepresence) are allowed to reach China's global market over 5G. This means China, through the actions of its 5G carriers, will be able to exclude US companies from that market.

The risk to the US of China's plans is obvious: American companies don't stand a chance in this context. China, not America, will be the place where new online services are born. Although the US came up with the idea of the internet, we don't have a sandbox to play in, a giant market in which to test new high-capacity services. That’s because we haven’t committed ourselves to keeping up with Asia and the Nordics by upgrading the ends of our networks, the "last-mile" network section that reaches homes and businesses, to fiber-optic cable.

Above all, we need a plan. Right now we don't have one.

Public Grid

Wired wants "publicly controlled fiber-optic cables" to form a "street-grid available for lease under nondiscriminatory terms to private operators who sell services."

That has a bad ring to it, but I an not positive exactly what Wired proposed. It did add, "Government doesn't need to control connectivity; we are not China."

That I can endorse 100%.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock