OnQ Blog

5G: Your life is about to change

Picture this: At 3:00 p.m., you have a conference call with your coworkers who are scattered around the world. You’ll be finalizing a presentation for your company’s biggest client. Deadlines are tight. The pressure is real. Thankfully, you’ll all be donning your extended reality (XR) glasses for the meeting, so it’ll look and feel as if you’re in the same room. More importantly, you’ll all be able to collaborate in real-time, working within the same documents to complete the project — ahead of schedule.

This scenario isn’t far-fetched. It’s the promise of our 5G future.

You’ve probably seen or heard something about 5G in the last few months, but what is it really — and why should you care? In our new series about 5G, we’ll help you navigate the facts and demystify the next mobile industry revolution.

In this first post we’ll start by answering the question: What is 5G?

With 3G, our phones connected to the internet. Then, 4G came around and our smartphones were able to support the mobile applications and experiences we’ve all come to love and expect. Qualcomm inventions were behind both advancements, and now, with expertise spanning more than 30 years, we’re unlocking what comes next with 5G.

5G, which stands for the “fifth generation” of connectivity, refers to the standards and technologies that define how our phones — and eventually, many other devices — work and communicate. 5G has the power to transform current industries, create new industries, and impact societies with:

  • faster speeds for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and use cases requiring high data rates,
  • lower latency for mission-critical services that rely on ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), and 
  • higher density to support a massive number of connected devices in the ever-expanding Internet of Things (IoT). 

In combination, these 5G innovations are likely to change the way all of us connect with everything and how everything connects to each other. Really, everything.

5G is a huge leap forward from 3G and 4G

Every 10 years or so, there’s a big transition in the mobile industry. The first truly mobile phones showed up in the early '80s, allowing us to make calls on the go. Soon after, Qualcomm introduced the world to CDMA (code division multiple access), which connected our phones to the internet and ushered in 3G. This third generation of mobile connectivity brought GPS, gaming, music streaming, and social media. 

The advent of 4G delivered yet another smartphone revolution, enabling what everyone is doing on their phones today. Our breakthrough technologies enabled an influx of new and exciting mobile apps that help us socialize, share rides, and even play games, using augmented reality (AR). With 4G, we also enjoy cloud-based applications that allow us to stream our favorite shows, communicate with our digital assistants, and collaborate with co-workers on our smartphones and Always Connected PCs

Like 3G and 4G, 5G will introduce new apps and services — some beyond what we can even imagine. I believe it will transform the smartphone — one of the first 5G use cases — with previously unimaginable speeds, connectivity, and productivity. 5G is designed to pair with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and XR to enhance current services and applications, offering a different level of user experiences. 

How we’ll start to use it

After years of research and development, 5G is set to launch in 2019. In the spring, we should start to see 5G data cards and hotspots debut. Soon after, within the first half of 2019, we’ll see 5G smartphones start to make their way into our hands.

The aforementioned eMBB is designed to provide greater capacity, lower latency, and data rates up to 20X faster than what we have today. With this technology, 5G aims to virtually erase the dreaded “buffering” as we stream videos, share photos, and download movies on our smarter phones.

eMBB’s faster speeds, dramatically increased capacity, and lower latency will also pave the way for next-generation, immersive experiences, including multiplayer VR gaming, shopping with AR, multi-language video chat, and real-time video collaboration. Aside from the virtual conference call I mentioned earlier, eMBB can make things like virtually visiting the Seven Wonders of the World, sitting courtside at the NBA Finals, and even on-stage access to your favorite band’s concert — experiences that can only work with 5G — possible.

What’s around the corner

Today’s networks have limits for how many devices can be connected before service suffers. 5G networks, however, are being built to handle billions of connected sensors and devices — so not just smartphones, hotspots, and Always On, Always Connected PCs, but in a few years, industrial automation, connected vehicles, mission-critical services, and eventually even entire smart cities. This is when IoT and URLLC will come into play with eMBB to play a transformational role in 5G, as increased capacity and coverage will be necessary to support these new user experiences and a more connected world.

After years of research and development — not to mention the tireless work of my colleagues here at Qualcomm — it’s beyond thrilling to know we’ve unlocked 5G and are now months away from its launch. Our lives are about to change in ways we can’t even imagine. It’s incredibly exciting, and I can’t wait to see the breakthrough innovation that 5G will bring.

For more on the tech behind 5G, check out "5G: An even deeper dive" below.

Qualcomm Technologies invented a number of breakthroughs on the way to 5G. Each, on its own, is cutting-edge, but when combined, they’ll help enable completely new user experiences. Here’s more on the innovations behind 5G:

Spectrum. To make room for more connected devices within the mobile ecosystem, we’ve expanded our access to the industry’s allocated radio frequencies, or spectrum. 5G devices will be able to tap into both frequencies below 6 GHz that provide ubiquitous coverage (sub-6 GHz) and frequencies above 24 GHz that will increase network speed and capacity (mmWave).

Beamforming. A wireless technique that utilizes advanced antenna technologies to focus a wireless signal in a specific direction, rather than broadcasting to a wide area, like a spotlight vs a floodlight.

Beam tracking. The data-delivery system identifies the most efficient route to a device and extends the reach of base stations, so our downloads and uploads aren’t interrupted by obstructions like buildings or trees.

Massive MIMO. More people using more data could lead to network congestion, but our Massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology supports the use of dozens more antennas at one base station. This means we’re able to support increased data rates, coverage, and capacity for a more uniform — and happier — user experience.
Watch our video on MIMO.

Carrier aggregation. This 5G technology enables wider bandwidth by grouping multiple frequency carriers to increase peak data rates.
Watch our video on carrier aggregation.

QAM. Quadrature amplitude modulation is currently used in 4G LTE and will also be used in 5G. The technology changes the amplitudes of two data streams to create a single channel, doubling the bandwidth and making room for more streams to deliver data.
Watch our video on QAM.

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