By now, you've likely heard that 5G is going to be a far faster technology than current LTE networks, and it's going to work somewhat differently. Specifically, it's going to run at a minimum of 20Gbps downlink, and 10Gbps uplink. It's going to be mostly based on high-frequency signals from small cells servicing limited areas with clusters of customers. You've probably also heard that the technology is going to spark multiple revolutions across multiple tech fronts, even those that you wouldn't think of as being affected by the rise of 5G. Here are just a few possible examples.
5G won't just mean faster smartphones, it could mean entirely different smartphones, and new experiences from them. For starters, we already have multiple mobile VR ecosystems, Google's Tango AR system, and fledgling app streaming, along with web apps that act like native apps. A cheap smartphone with low processing power, RAM, and storage could potentially give users a high-end experience by streaming almost all of its content via 5G connections. On a completely different note, new phone form factors and other objects doing the job of a smartphone could be on the menu. Imagine an apparatus somewhat like Google Glass, but perhaps with an optional opaque visor. The form factor may limit processing power and storage, but thanks to the magic of 5G, you could still beam premium content into that visor or see your friends as holograms on the transparent display in real time, among other possible uses. This could also mean that a smartwatch with a projector could become a media center, for example. As far as existing phone archetypes powering new experiences, how about PC-grade VR and premium, realistic AR, without taxing your phone's processor? Faster, better voice assistants could also be a possible fruit of 5G.
Connected cars are another front that 5G could seriously have a good effect on. Systems that connect, stream, and do the things you need done faster than ever before are possible, as are systems that can automate part of your driving experience or get you help as soon as you need it, thanks to lightning-fast connections. Game consoles could see benefits similar to those of phones listed above, nullifying the need for powerful hardware and allowing more innovation in design. Live music is another example; a wireless guitar adapter powered by 5G can beam to all the stage speakers at once, with absolutely zero latency, and low power usage.
Machine learning is another area where things could be made much more interesting by 5G going mainstream. Of course there's the fact that current machine learning applications will be able to phone home and get instructions back far quicker, but there's also the possibility of pulling in IoT devices, phones, and the like that are on the same network to serve as local processing nodes. Localized neural networking could allow smartphones to do entirely new things, and refine current use cases. Imagine, you head to the theater with your Fandango ticket in your inbox, then just head to the door of the theater screening the movie you have a ticket for. Your phone is thinking and talking during this time; it's telling devices all around it in the local 5G network that it's here, and telling them why it thinks it may be there. Thanks to advanced machine learning and local neural networking, it doesn't take your phone long to figure out that you're probably at the theater to use that ticket that you have in your inbox. From there, it starts looking on the network for the entry node to the correct theater. It feeds the node your picture and confirms your valid Fandango ticket, all before you get past the concession stand. Once the camera picks up your face, or failing that, the node realizes your phone is nearby, the doors swing open for you. That's just one use case, but the implications for security, IoT, and a million and one other facets of everyday tech could all see similar functionality.
Given all the potential use cases, it's easy to start seeing the potential behind 5G. The technology will take time and money to roll out, and will undoubtedly have its growing pains. Network operators putting their 5G networks down will end up spending a lot, and will probably hike up prices a bit as a result. Service will be spotty at first, since small cell networks take more nodes to build out satisfactorily. Like the universally panned HTC Thunderbolt, early smartphones, tablets, and the like that integrate the technology could see growing pains of their own. Once the smoke clears, what's left will be a futuristic network that can power experiences and devices that aren't even thought of right now. The magic is all set to happen in 2020.