What is 5G (or 4G or 3G for that matter)? And how will it impact our phones and more?
Verizon on Monday will roll out 5G wireless broadband to parts of Sacramento, making the city one of just a handful in the world to boast the first revolutionary, at-home internet service of its type from a major provider.
Customers in some Sacramento neighborhoods, who could sign up starting Sept. 13, can get a three-month free trial period before paying $70 a month (or $50 a month, for customers already paying for a Verizon wireless phone plan) for network speeds advertised at 300 megabits per second. That’s anywhere from about 25 to 60 times higher-speed than existing 4G LTE Verizon coverage, which ranges from 5 to 12 Mbps.
Sacramento, Houston, Indianapolis and Los Angeles are the first cities getting access, with service available Monday, Oct. 1, as Verizon and the city of Sacramento proudly announced earlier in 2018.
Access will later expand to the rest of Sacramento, the city announced earlier this year, with a goal of early 2019.
So here’s a crash course in 5G, and how it will affect the Sacramento region and beyond.
What is ‘5G’?
“5G” denotes the fifth generation of wireless/cellphone technology.
1G, the first generation, was introduced conceptually back in 1979, and relied on analog standards via radio signals.
2G moved the signal type from analog to the digital age, and also introduced SMS (aka text messages).
3G technology introduced faster data transfer rates. As archived news stories from the early 2000s indicate, 3G service launched commercially in Japan in 2001 with some apprehension from critics. Later in the decade, improved 3G technology allowed for data transfer quick enough for the feasibility of smartphones, as the second-generation iPhone released in 2008 used 3G to offer internet access.
4G and 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) further improved network speeds, with coverage areas expanding for high-speed mobile internet access. Verizon says on its website that its 4G LTE service, which it launched commercially in December 2010, carries 90 percent of its users’ data traffic. More than 98 percent of the U.S. has 4G LTE access, Verizon says.
That makes 5G the next jump, with its early implementations and commercial uses offering high performance at lower costs and energy consumption, as explained by wireless providers, and hardware-makers like Qualcomm and Intel. Later developments in the 5G lifespan could massively boost wireless internet speeds available via modems and phones (more on that later).
What is Verizon offering, exactly?
Verizon’s product is known as 5G Home. The company’s website bills it as “the first ever 5G-powered home internet that can connect all your devices.”
With an appearance similar to Google Home or Amazon Echo smart speakers, Verizon’s device will take in signals from “small-scale antenna/radios” mounted on Sacramento light poles or utility poles, according to a news release by the city.
With the antennas installed and devices set up, service is set to go online Monday for Sacramento and the other three U.S. cities.
It should be noted that unlike currently available 4G LTE, the 5G plan Verizon is unveiling in October is an at-home-only service for now, not citywide roaming coverage. Therefore, you won’t be able to use those new antennas in Sacramento unless you’re at a home with 5G installed.
Where is it offered?
The city of Sacramento has provided a map roughly outlining the areas and neighborhoods in which Verizon 5G will launch Monday.
Verizon additionally offers a webpage in which users can input their street address to find out if they qualify.
How do costs compare?
According to the rates advertised by each company for standalone internet plans, Verizon 5G will give eligible households a slightly better deal in terms of value than one of its main Sacramento region competitors, Comcast Xfinity.
Comcast Xfinity’s Blast! Pro standalone package offers 250 Mbps download speeds starting at $70 a month, the same price as Verizon’s 300 Mbps 5G service.
The region’s other major provider, AT&T, offers a 300 Mbps plan for $70 a month, according to its website.
Wait, it’s comparable to AT&T and Comcast speeds at the same price point? I thought 5G was supposed to be blazing fast.
Examining raw download speeds, one will notice that Verizon 5G Home in Sacramento won’t immediately offer anything that blazes past options provided by competitors via traditional Wi-Fi modems.
As noted, 300 Mbps is currently offered by AT&T, and Xfinity doesn’t lag too far behind at 250 Mbps for $70. And both companies offer 1,000-plus Mbps plans for higher prices.
So why the fuss, then?
Verizon 5G will, according to the company and the city of Sacramento’s statements, provide necessary infrastructure and a customer base for improved 5G networks down the road.
It may take a matter of years for 5G to grow to the anticipated “blazing fast” levels, as technology continues to improve. Sacramento’s status as a pilot city should give it a head start over most U.S. cities, for Verizon customers at the very least.
Widespread Verizon 5G coverage across Sacramento is expected by early 2019, the city says.
How will the faster internet speeds affect me day-to-day?
Conceptually, the foundation for faster internet that plans to be built using Sacramento’s 5G infrastructure could have a big impact for everyday consumers.
The first phase of 5G will only be capable of boosting current connection speeds by about 15 to 50 percent, real-world tests of the existing technology show. However, improvements within a few years could be dramatic.
The most ambitious estimates by tech news outlets predict speeds of 20 gigabits per second being reachable in the 2020s. In theory, that’s fast enough for the wireless download of a feature-length, HD movie in about two seconds.
Put another way, 20 Gbps is about 4,000 times faster than the 5 Mbps at the low end of Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage.
Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said in a recent interview with Bloomberg that 5G phones with faster wireless speeds will be available in the first half of 2019.
Wireless internet speeds that quick could transform the workplace, some say. A blog post by Tech Radar speculated that 5G innovations could increase business productivity so greatly, it may usher in the standard of a four-day work week.
Why else should I care?
Widespread access to fast wireless speeds and an early foundation set for 5G internet has other implications for Sacramento.
For instance, Phantom Auto, an autonomous vehicle technology company, recently agreed to begin testing driverless cars in Sacramento, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said. Faster wireless connections means quicker communication between the car and the backup driver.
Introduction of 5G will “expand digital access for underserved communities and boost the city’s efforts to establish itself as a center for autonomous vehicle testing,” Steinberg said in a news release.
How did Sacramento end up as one of the four pilot cities?
A detailed article published this April, penned by tech blog Fierce Wireless Editor-in-Chief Mike Dano, and previous stories by The Bee explain how the city landed a pilot 5G program from a major provider like Verizon.
Wireless network providers wanted to install small antenna cells on city-owned structures like light poles and utility towers — many of them downtown, where carriers need additional network capacity — to handle the growing demand created by increased network traffic, Dano wrote.
“There was a definite need to build out more capacity,” the city’s IT operations manager Darin Arcolino told Fierce Wireless.
The city entered into a contract with a startup company called XG in 2016, Fierce Wireless reports. XG was chosen to handle the city’s small cell operations and author its wireless master plan.
In other words, XG was contracted by the city to set up the infrastructure that would allow a major provider like Verizon to introduce 5G service. Instead of direct payment, XG receives a percentage of leasing revenue from the city, Dano wrote.
As The Bee reported at the time, the City Council in June 2017 reached a public-private partnership agreement with Verizon. Council members unanimously approved the plan, and Steinberg at the time called it “a new era of Sacramento.”
In addition to 5G, the city’s contract with Verizon calls for the company to provide free Wi-Fi in 27 of Sacramento’s parks; provide internship and career opportunity programs for area STEM students; utilize technology to improve public safety and improve traffic congestion at city intersections; and build multipurpose digital kiosks.
What’s in it for Verizon? As The Bee reported then, a memo in 2017 regarding the partnership said Verizon would get free use of 101 small cell towers for 10 years and low-cost rates for 5G cell locations when the technology goes commercial — as it will, officially, starting Monday.
Will the new antennas or signals make me sick or turn me into a mutant with superpowers?
Probably not. The city of Sacramento in a news release cites Federal Communications Commission safety standards and World Health Organization projects that support very low risks to human health.