Thứ Bảy, 8 tháng 2, 2020

No, 5G won't replace 4G (and other 5G myths debunked)

No, 5G won't replace 4G (and other 5G myths debunked)

We clear up some of the confusion around 5G.
Angela Lang/CNET
The next generation of high-speed mobile data, known as 5G, is already live in a handful of areas in the US, as well as other parts of the world, including countries such as the UK and Australia. But as this network rolls out, many misconceptions and confusion around the new technology remain.
This isn't completely surprising -- 5G will have an impact on many people's lives all around the world, so there are understandably still a lot of questions being asked. As the 5G rollout continues throughout 2020, it's predicted that there will be 1 billion 5G customers by 2023. Not only will these 5G networks connect users to a superfast mobile network, but many other industries will benefit from the faster connectivity of 5G as well, like self-driving cars, drones and the internet of things, to name a few.
To learn more about 5G, we're debunking a few 5G myths. And if you want to know more about 5G in general, read our FAQ: Everything you need to know about the 5G revolution.

Is 5G safe?

One of the biggest concerns people have about 5G is that the network's radio frequency will be unsafe, expose people to radiation and cause cancer. The fears aren't completely unfounded -- a 2011 report from the World Health Organization suggested that cellphone radiation should be listed as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."  In 2016, a study funded by the US government showed a link between radio frequency radiation and cancers in rats. And popular phones like the iPhone and Galaxy handsets may exceed the level of radio frequency radiation allowed by the FCC.
But the link between cancer and phones may be overstated. For one thing, a number of things that we encounter every day are considered to be carcinogenic hazards to some degree, including diesel fuel, aloe vera and pickled food. The aforementioned 2016 study also exposed male rats to levels of radiation that exceeded radiation levels that humans would come across from their cellphones.
Though it's too early to be 100% confident, we do know that on Aug. 8, after more than six years of research and review, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a proposal to deem cellphones, including ones that use 5G, as safe. As CNET Senior Writer Maggie Reardon reported, that includes "current exposure levels for cellphones, wireless towers, Wi-Fi routers and all other devices emitting RF signals." In addition, "Agency officials ... don't have any concern for new gear using 5G technology, including gear that uses millimeter wavelength frequencies."

Will 5G replace 4G? Will I need a new phone?

While you will need a 5G phone to access a 5G network, it doesn't mean you need one to reap some of its speed benefits. In fact, as the next-gen network rolls out, you may experience faster speeds on 4G as well (more on that below). In addition, 5G is not replacing 4G altogether. Rather, it's building on top of existing 4G networks. All major carriers in the US and around the world are a ways away from a solid network-wide rollout. Even if 5G is available in your area, your phone isn't obsolete just yet. It will still work perfectly fine on 4G.

But will my current phone be faster?

According to a GSMA Intelligence report, 15% of global mobile connections will be on 5G by 2025. By that same year, 4G LTE usage will be about 59% -- an increase from 43% in 2018. In short, 5G will not replace LTE in the way that 4G did with 3G when it launched.
Taking that into consideration, those with 4G phones may see a boost in speed as 5G networks roll out. This is due to two reasons: dynamic spectrum sharing and carrier aggregation. Coming to the US in 2020, DSS technology allows carriers to employ the same spectrum band for 4G and 5G. As people transition to 5G, "lanes" for 4G will be kept open for smart home devices and users who aren't on 5G yet. As more people leave 4G, its capacity increases and so will speeds.
Carrier aggregation allows carriers to combine 4G signals with other 4G signals, which will result in "a huge performance and capacity lift," according to Verizon's vice president of technology, Heidi Hemmer. 5G builds on 4G technology too, so you'll also experience lower latency periods (aka: the time between when your phone pings the network and when it responds) as carriers develop their 5G networks.

Will 5G force me into an unlimited data plan?

Most likely yes, for now. In the US, Verizon has four unlimited plans and three of them include 5G for an extra $10 a month on top of the regular plans. To experience 5G on Sprint, you will need an unlimited plan as well. T-Mobile (which is due to merge with Sprint), told PCMag that its 5G service will be unlimited but won't cost more than its existing 4G plans. AT&T's 5G network is currently for businesses only, but the 5G plan for its $499 hotspot, Nighthawk, will cost $70 a month for 15GB when it's eventually released to consumers.
In general, 5G plans will cost more but don't expect carriers to be completely clear and transparent about it. As CNET Executive Editor Roger Cheng reported, "LTE didn't cost any more when it first came out; you just needed to buy a new phone. But pricing models do change over time. Since 4G launched, carriers both took away unlimited plans and brought them back."
Make sure your streaming plan includes HD video.
Angela Lang/CNET

Will 5G allow me to stream the best-quality video at all times? 

Not necessarily, as this depends on your video streaming service provider and your plan. Netflix, for example, has a Basic Plan that only lets you stream videos in standard definition. There is a more expensive Premium Plan too, where you can watch high-definition and ultra high-definition videos when available. And while most devices support Hulu's HD programming, its 4K Ultra HD content is currently only available on Apple TV (fifth generation or later) or Chromecast Ultra. Disney Plus, however, will give all subscribers access to 4K and HDR high-quality video. 

Will 5G really allow for remote surgeries and autonomous vehicles? 

Back at MWC 2019 in February, CNET Senior Reporter Shara Tibken witnessed what was billed as the first live surgery over 5G that involved a doctor consulting the surgeon from another location. The doctor was able to relay instructions and draw on a video of the patient in real time, as surgeons were performing the procedure.
While entire surgeries performed over 5G isn't going to be possible right away, there is little doubt that 5G will revolutionize the health care industry. Surgeries performed in remote areas with a doctor located in a different location will be possible over 5G since the network can handle the high bandwidth, quick responsiveness and low latency required to carry out such an endeavor. 
5G can benefit the industry in other ways. High-definition streams and sophisticated imaging of patients can bring health experts into the home, and emergency responders can get immediate mapping and terrain information when they are out in the field (say, a firefighter receiving the schematics of a burning building in real time on an AR headset).
As for autonomous cars, that won't likely come around for many years, if at all. But 5G is seen as "an enabler" and an "accelerator" for self-driving cars when it comes to communication, latency and bandwidth, according to Dmitri Dolgov, chief technology officer at Google's Waymo self-driving car business, in an interview with VentureBeat.  
In addition, CNET Senior Editor Stephen Shankland reported that "C-V2X, a communications technology using the same 5G networks coming to our phones, will allow vehicles to communicate wirelessly with each other, with traffic signals and with other roadside gear, improving both functionality and safety. "

Will 5G really close the digital divide?

Not exactly. While the US is ahead of some countries, such as China, Japan and Russia, with its 5G rollout, the switchover from 4G to 5G will be staggered. That means that while some pockets will have 5G initially, many larger areas will still be on 4G for a while. There are also many agricultural and rural areas in this country that still don't have internet, let alone high-speed internet or mobile data. This upcoming 5G era may actually widen the gap even further.

Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: Choose the best 5G carrier

Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint: Choose the best 5G carrier

Cost, phone, speed and coverage. 5G is the new Wild West.
AT&T's 5G network on a Galaxy S10 5G phone.
Logan Moy/CNET
5G is coming to your town. Starting this spring, first Verizon and then AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile began rolling out 5G networks, dotting the US -- from Minneapolis to Dallas and New York to Los Angeles -- with 5G speeds and faster wireless connections.
Depending on where you live, you may not see a 5G network for a while, especially if you're more rural than urban. And even when 5G does come to your area, coverage zones may be small and the reception may be iffy. But when the time comes, you'll need to know which carrier gives you the most for your money.
5G goes global: We tested 5G speeds around the world
5G is the much-anticipated fifth-generation wireless networking technology that has the potential to bring fiber-like speeds over the air to phones, cars, homes and factories. And while 5G promises speeds that will let you download a full-length movie to your phone in seconds, it's not just about the rocket-fast connections. The wireless standard is designed to significantly reduce network latency (or lag time), letting you play a real-time combat game against other players on your phone, for example, or helping self-driving cars monitor each other on the road.
To create their 5G networks, the four major US carriers are using a combination of available spectrum bands, and their mix of bands defines the coverage. On one side is "sub-6," which is extremely efficient and reliable at providing connections over long distances, indoors and out. Sub-6 currently runs over 2.5GHz to 6GHz spectrum bands.
Over on the other side, 5G can also refer to "millimeter wave," or "mmWave", which offers much higher capacity over much shorter distances (that is, ultra-fast speeds over 1Gbps). Reception can be finicky, with walls, glass and even a hand able to block the mmWave signal. mmWave uses spectrum bands above 24GHz.
Unless you're keen to be an early adopter of 5G, you have little reason to switch over today. The current 5G phones are expensive and tax the device's battery, you'll most likely pay a premium to hop on a carrier's 5G network, and unless you're near a 5G node, you may spend more time on 4G than on 5G, at least at first. 
But 5G is an inevitability, the same way that 4G replaced 3G before it. Eventually, it will come to us all. Whether you decide to pick a 5G network now or wait to see how 5G rolls out in your area, here's what to consider when you look at a 5G mobile carrier.

Cost: 5G phones and plans aren't cheap

These are the early days of 5G, and the major carriers are starting to unveil their plans and phones. Over the next year, we'll see more 5G phones, and the carriers will adjust their plans. But right now, here's what we have. (You can see how VerizonAT&TSprint and T-Mobile's 5G plans stack up in the chart below.)
5G phones right now aren't cheap, with most devices well above above $1,000. The Galaxy S10 5G, for example, is $1,300. You can also buy the LG V50 ThinQ for $1,222. But you can find deals, like the Motorola Moto Z4 phone and required Moto Mod accessory currently priced at $440, but those are more of the exception. Outside of the US, options include the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and Oppo Reno 5G.
If the price of a 5G phone seems steep, you can pay month by month instead of buying the phone up front. But the downside, as with any phone, is you may still be paying for a first-gen 5G phone that in two years could feel out of date.


Mobile carrierMonthly, individualMonthly, family/groupHotspot monthly allowanceCities with live 5GOther fees
Verizon Beyond Limited$85 for 1 line$50 per line for 4 linesUnlimited for 5G10$10 a month access fee, currently waived
Verizon Above Limited$95 for 1 line$60 per line for 4 linesUnlimited for 5G10$10 a month access fee, currently waived
AT&T Business Unlimited Perferred*$90 for 1 line$165/2 lines to $490 for 10 lines20 GB21 (hotspot only)$25 a month per phone; $150 for mobile hotspot
Sprint Unlimited Premium$80 for 1 line$140 for 2 lines to $200 for 5 lines100 GB9
T-Mobile Essentials$30 for 1 line$30 per line for 4 linesUnlimited for 3G6
T-Mobile Magenta$40 for 1 line$40 per line for 4 lines3GB for 4G6
T-Mobile Magenta Plus$50 for 1 line$50 per line for 4 lines20GB for 4G6
* AT&T's 5G network is for business; no public date for consumer access.

The phone isn't the only thing you'll pay a premium for. Carriers may put you and your 5G phone into one of their upper-tier plans, so expect to pay for unlimited data. On Verizon, for example, a 5G plan starts at $85 for a single line, and although the carrier has temporarily waived its $10 monthly add-on fee for 5G service, expect it to come into effect down the line. That alone is an extra $120 per year that you're paying just to use 5G.
Another possible cost: If you're paying month to month for your current phone, you'll have to pay it off completely before making the switch, unless a promotional deal offers to make up the difference to get you to switch. You maybe also be able to offset that expense by trading in your phone or reselling it.
One more expense: if your plan has data cap, you can use up a good part of your 5G data allotment in a less than an hour, like we did in Australia, where an editor ate up half of his monthly data plan in 25 minutes downloading a game and several movies over a 5G network he was testing.
The full range of the spectrum assigned for 5G spans under 1 GHz to over 24 GHz.
And something to keep an eye on: Sprint is live with 5G in nine cities, but a potential bump for Sprint's -- and T-Mobile's -- 5G rollout is the pending merger of the two companies. The merger could give the newly combined company and its merged network a running start at 5G.

Coverage: What can you expect today from 5G

Wicked-fast networking speeds. Coverage that varies block to block. Unexpected switches between 5G and 4G. Large parts of the country -- both urban and rural -- with no 5G at all. 5G is here, but just barely.
The four major carriers are slowly lighting up 5G networks in two dozen or so cities across the US, but each is taking a different approach to its rollout, from Verizon providing tiny pockets of 5G coverage in four cities to AT&T looking to 5G hotspots that create wireless 5G networks.
A map of Atlanta, showing T-Mobile's 5G coverage.
To check for yourself whether 5G is -- or isn't -- available in your area, Ookla is tracking the global rollout of 5G networks through its service. The Speedtest interactive map lets you drill down to the city-level to see which companies have deployed 5G.
The map, however, doesn't tell the whole story. As a next step, compare where you live and work or attend school with each carrier's coverage map. If you're frequently near a carrier's hotspots, that might push you to 5G sooner rather than later.
Ookla is tracking the rollout of 5G networks across the US and globe, updating its interactive map weekly.

The current 4G data network will get faster, too

The 5G rollout across the US will happen slowly. Apple, for example, is rumored not to be launching a 5G phone until 2020 at the earliest. One analyst predicts sales of 5G phones won't eclipse those of 4G devices till 2023. And T-Mobile is marking 2024 as the year it all comes together.
In the meantime, 4G networks will continue to carry the wireless load for the mobile carriers, just as 3G saw us through the transition to 4G. 4G networks are also slated to get faster as 5G networks build up, so even if you're not immediately on 5G, 4G should see some benefit, too.
Another word to the wise: Be aware of unusual claims about 5G coverage. AT&T tried to get ahead of the 5G wave earlier this year, displaying a "5G E" icon on a handful of its 4G phones. Under pressure, the company stepped back from the confusing 5G claim and is rolling out 5G service in parts of 20 cities via hotspots.

Get on 5G now or wait?

If you don't need a 5G phone at this minute, watch for 5G deals and promotional bundles from your carrier, once 5G goes live in your area. Consider switching carriers, too, if one has a better deal or better coverage in your area when you're ready to move to 5G.
Know that wherever you live -- urban or especially rural -- service most likely won't be widely available for some time. Before you make the move to a 5G phone and service, ask your carrier how you'll know when you're connected to 5G and about its return policy if you're not getting acceptable 5G speeds. You'll often get a 14-day grace period for returns -- make sure you have a backup phone to use if you just want to try 5G out but aren't sure of it. 
Remember, 5G is the technology that will carry us through the next decade, so waiting won't be a bad thing: Costs should come down, a broader selection of phones should come online and coverage will expand. 
Whether you decide to jump in now or wait, check back here -- we'll keep updating this as new 5G phones come in and as mobile carriers improve their coverage and tweak their data plans to meet demand.

Yes, these top 5G benefits are actually coming to you. Now we know when

Yes, these top 5G benefits are actually coming to you. Now we know when

A new timeline sheds some light on when 5G's could come to your phone, home and more.

There are so many promises about how faster 5G data will transform our lives, it sometimes feels mythical. Though lightning-fast download speeds are slowly coming to more carriers and phones, the prospects of self-driving cars talking to each other, remote surgery and 5G replacing your home Wi-Fi feel like the stuff of a still-distant future. But at last, we're finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Qualcomm, which makes the 5G chips and modems that every 5G phone in the US will rely on, shared a road map (scroll down to see the slides) that spells out when we might start seeing 5G improvements beyond just fast download speeds. Qualcomm isn't the only major 5G player, of course -- HuaweiNokia and Ericsson are all leaders, too -- but Qualcomm's investments in 5G research and development mean that it has a strong hand in getting the next wave of 5G benefits off the ground. So, its timeline is a good place to start.
Here are five next-gen milestones that could actually affect you.

Every high-end phone could be 5G in 2020

Qualcomm has said it before: all premium phones will support 5G next year. It's a confident statement that both predicts and reflects the trend we're seeing with phones such as the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5GLG V50OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and others. But there's a little nuance here, too.
The pattern so far points to a pricier 5G version of every mainstream phone, for example, as we see with the Galaxy S10 Plus (which is 4G) and Galaxy S10 5G. 4G-only options are still valuable during the 5G transition because they come with a lower price tag. And phone-makers like Samsung want to flood the market with options at every price point, to capture a wide swath of buyers. 
Jessica Dolcourt @jdolcourt
"Every high-end phone that gets launched next year will be 5G. Every single one." Qualcomm CTO Jim Thompson @CNET #5G
11:40 PM - Sep 24, 2019
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While we'll see more 5G phones next year, it's a likely bet that we'll continue to see what we're seeing now -- a 5G option for every major lineup. By 2021, when the networks are fully developed and prices start to come down, it's more likely that every premium phone model will support 5G from the get-go, without a 4G variant to provide a cheaper option. 
That said, keep an eye out for one-off handsets for 5G service only, like foldable phones and "affordable 5G" devices aimed at specific markets, like the Galaxy A90 5G. Countries with more developed 5G networks, like Korea, may also see more 5G phones (without 4G variants) as the rate of adoption continues to climb. 
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The 5G wireless revolution, explained

The 5G wireless revolution, explained

The next-generation wireless technology is expected to change your life. Just not yet.
5G will change our lives... eventually. 
James Martin/CNET
After years of hype, carriers have spent the last several months turning on their 5G networks. It's supposed to change your life with its revolutionary speed, but for now, the deployments remain limited, so don't be surprised if you're nowhere near the service. For 5G, as with any technology, give it some time. 
Between the end of 2018 through the first few months of this year, the carriers were racing to claim some sort of "first." Verizon and AT&T launched their mobile 5G networks, while KT said a robot in South Korea was its first 5G customer. Sprint turned on its network in June, followed shortly thereafter by T-Mobile. UK carrier EE was the first in its country to turn on 5G. 
Sounds great, right?
But it's a virtual certainty that you aren't a 5G customer of any of these carriers. AT&T's network is live in 21 cities, including Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans, but the customers are all small businesses and the carrier has refused to talk about where the coverage is actually located. Verizon, which launched a 5G home service last fall, has targeted 30 cities this year, with 15 cities online, but the coverage looks more like a collection of hotspots. 
Back in April, the early tests of its 5G network were a mess, with erratic and inconsistent coverage and only some areas where you could experience 5G's true speeds with the Motorola Z3 and its 5G Moto Mod. But a follow-up test in May with the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which had the 5G radio integrated into the phone, proved a much better experience, with speeds above 1 gigabit per second, or faster than Google Fiber. A test of Sprint's 5G network showed less impressive speeds (but still faster than 4G LTE), but better coverage.
T-Mobile is poised to launch a version of its 5G service that isn't as fast but boasts broader coverage later this year (we'll explain later). It'll launch the service with the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G MacLaren phone. 
All this means 5G is slowly inching from years of promises -- ever since Verizon talked about moving into the area three years ago -- to becoming reality. Beyond a big speed boost, 5G has been referred to as foundational tech that'll supercharge areas like self-driving carsvirtual and augmented reality and telemedicine services such as remote surgery.  
But what exactly is 5G? Why are people so excited? The following is a breakdown of why the next generation of wireless technology is more than just a boost in speed, and why you should be excited. 

What is 5G?

It's the next (fifth) generation of cellular technology, and it promises to greatly enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. How fast are we talking? Verizon's network showed speeds surging past 1 gigabit per second.
That's 10 to 100 times speedier than your typical cellular connection, and even faster than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house. (In optimal conditions, you'll be able to download a season's worth of Stranger Things in seconds.)

Is it just about speed?

No! One of the key benefits is something called low latency. You'll hear this term a lot. Latency is the response time between when you click on a link or start streaming a video on your phone, which sends the request up to the network, and when the network responds, delivering you the website or playing your video.
That lag time can last around 20 milliseconds with current networks. It doesn't seem like much, but with 5G, that latency gets reduced to as little as 1 millisecond, or about the time it takes for a flash on a normal camera
That responsiveness is critical for things like playing an intense video game in virtual reality or for a surgeon in New York to control a pair of robotic arms performing a procedure in San Francisco, though latency will still be affected by the ultimate range of the connection. The virtually lag-free connection means self-driving cars have a way to communicate with each other in real time -- assuming there's enough 5G coverage to connect those vehicles. 

How does it work?

5G initially used super-high-frequency spectrum, which has shorter range but higher capacity, to deliver a massive pipe for online access. Think of it as a glorified Wi-Fi hotspot. 
But given the range and interference issues, the carriers are also using lower-frequency spectrum -- the type used in today's networks -- to help ferry 5G across greater distances and through walls and other obstructions. 
Sprint claims it has the biggest 5G network because it's using its 2.5 gigahertz band of spectrum, which offers wider coverage. T-Mobile plans a bigger rollout of its 5G network in the second half thanks to the use of even lower-band spectrum. And AT&T says it plans to offer 5G coverage nationwide over its lower-band Sub-6 spectrum in early 2020.
The result is that the insane speeds companies first promised won't always be there, but we'll still see a big boost from what we get today with 4G LTE

Where do these carriers get the spectrum?

Some of these carriers already control small swaths of high-frequency radio airwaves, but many will have to purchase more from the government. Carriers around the world are working with their respective governments to free up the necessary spectrum. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission is holding more auctions for so-called millimeter wave spectrum, which all the carriers are participating in. 
Motorola's 5G Mod, in prototype form
Juan Garzon/CNET

Are there other benefits?

The 5G network is designed to connect a far greater number of devices than a traditional cellular network does. That internet of things trend you keep hearing about? 5G can power multiple devices around you, whether it's a dog collar or a refrigerator. 
The 5G network was also specifically built to handle equipment used by businesses, such as farm equipment or ATMs. Beyond speed, it's also designed to work differently on connected products that don't need a constant connection, like a sensor for fertilizer. Those kinds of low-power scanners are intended to work on the same battery for 10 years and still be able to periodically send data. 

Sounds great, but when does 5G get here?

Verizon launched the first "5G" service in the world in October, but it's a bit of a technicality. The service, called 5G Home, is a fixed broadband replacement, rather than a mobile service. An installer has to put in special equipment in your house or apartment that can pick up the 5G signals and turn that into a Wi-Fi connection in the home so your other devices can access it. 
There was also some debate about whether the service even qualified as 5G: It didn't use the standards the industry has agreed on. The company wanted to jump out ahead, and used its own proprietary technology. Verizon argued that the speeds, which range from 300 megabits per second to 1 gigabit per second, qualify the service for 5G designation. Its rivals and other mobile experts dispute that claim. 
The launch was extremely limited in select neighborhoods in Houston, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles and Sacramento, California. (Let us know if you're among the lucky few who get it.) In October, Verizon expanded the service to Chicago, and said it had switched to using industry-standard 5G equipment. 
As of the end of December, AT&T turned on its mobile 5G network in a dozen cities, and more specifically in "dense urban and high-traffic areas." Take note, Verizon: AT&T boasted that it's the "first and only company in the US to offer a mobile 5G device over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network." But again, consumers are still waiting for AT&T to launch the service publicly, so it just barely counts too. 
When will cheap 5G phones come to everyone? It's complicated, but here's what has to happen first to bring affordable 5G to the masses.

What about this 5G E thing from AT&T?

Sorry, but that's more marketing fluff. AT&T's 5G E stands for 5G Evolution, or its upgraded 4G LTE network that has a path to real 5G. 
But the designation, which showed up on phones early this year, has caused some consumer confusion, with some thinking they already have 5G. To be clear, it's not, with many bashing AT&T for misleading customers. Sprint filed a lawsuit against AT&T, which, according to an AT&T spokesperson, the companies "amicably settled." AT&T has said it's "proud" that it went with the 5G E name. 
5G E does bring higher speeds, but not the kind of true benefits real 5G would bring. 

What about all the other 5G names?

Yeah, it's super confusing. Beyond the fake 5G E name, there are legit labels like Verizon's UWB (for ultrawide band), which signals the fastest flavor of 5G (using millimeter wave). AT&T is calling its super-fast next-generation network 5G Plus, while using 5G as a label for the service running on lower frequency spectrum. Sprint's True Mobile 5G is just the name for its 5G service. 
Expect more marketing names to pop up.

Can't I just pick up 5G with my existing smartphone?

Sorry, no. 5G technology requires a specific set of antennas to tap into specific bands. For instance, Sprint's LG V50 is specifically tuned for its 5G network. Likewise, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is tuned for Verizon's network and its millimeter wave spectrum. 
Many of the phones will use Qualcomm's X50 modem, which is designed specifically to tap into specific 5G bands. Later phones will use a second-generation chip that picks up more spectrum bands. 
You can expect more 5G phones to launch later this year, with phones able to ride on different networks coming out in mass in 2020. 

Anything I should worry about?

High-frequency spectrum is the key to that massive pickup in capacity and speed, but there are drawbacks. The range isn't great, especially when you have obstructions such as trees or buildings. As a result, carriers will have to deploy a lot more small cellular radios, creatively named small cells, around any areas that get a 5G signal. 
That's going to annoy anyone who doesn't want cellular radios near them. 

What about health risks?

There have long been lingering concerns that cellular signals may cause cancer. Unfortunately, there haven't been a lot of studies to conclusively prove or disprove a health risk. 
That opens the door to concerns about 5G. While some of those networks will run at super-high frequencies, researchers note that it still falls under the category of radiation that isn't supposed to be harmful to our cells
Still, critics say there isn't enough research into this issue and that the studies that have been conducted weren't adequate. The World Health Organization lists cellular signals as a potential carcinogen. But it also notes pickled vegetables and coffee as carcinogens too. 
Still, it's something people are worried about. 

How broadly will 5G be available in 2019?

Here's the other concern: 5G might still be only a theoretical possibility for a lot of people. 
T-Mobile says it's launching in 30 cities this year, AT&T will have 22 cities, while Sprint will have its nine first-half cities. But it's unclear how wide the coverage will be. Globally, China, Japan and South Korea are racing to build out their 5G networks, with Europe turning on its own 5G networks now
Surprisingly, Sprint has the widest 5G footprint by the first half of the year, with more than 1,000 square miles of coverage across nine cities. That's not a huge amount of area.
So don't feel like you need to rush out to buy that first 5G smartphone. Chances are, service won't be widely available until 2020 or beyond. 
Also, while some see 5G helping to improve coverage for everyone, rural areas will likely miss out for a while, since they lack the infrastructure to support all those cell radios. 

Will it cost more?

If you're a Verizon customer, then yes. Its 5G service will cost $10 more a month (the fee is waived for now). Others are likely to follow. 
"5G brings capabilities that are going to cause us to think different about pricing," AT&T said. "We expect pricing to be at a premium to what we charge today."
That echoes a comment made back in March by then-Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who said he saw 5G as a premium service. New CEO Michel Combes declined to comment on pricing, but there hasn't been a premium added yet. 
There's precedent for holding the line: LTE didn't cost any more when it first came out; you just needed to buy a new phone. But pricing models do change over time. Since 4G launched, carriers have both taken away unlimited plans and brought them back. 
Verizon's home broadband service costs $50 for wireless subscribers, and $70 for everyone else. Those are in line with other broadband costs. (You can find out if you're eligible for the service here.)
AT&T's mobile 5G service will be free for "select" customers for the first 90 days. After that, the company will charge $499 for the hotspot plus $70 per month for a plan with a 15GB data cap.

Our 5G glossary

Want to show off your 5G knowledge to your friends? Or seem like the smartest person at a party? Check out our 5G glossary below. 

5G NR 

The 5G bit is pretty obvious, but the NR stands for New Radio. You don't have to know a lot about this beyond the fact that it's the name of the standard the entire wireless industry is rallying behind, and it just came out in December.
That's important because it means everyone is on the same page when it comes to their mobile 5G networks. Carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile are following 5G NR as they build their networks. But Verizon, which began testing 5G as a broadband replacement service before the standard was approved, isn't using the standard -- yet. The company says it'll eventually adopt 5G NR for its broadband service, and its mobile network runs on the NR standard too.

Millimeter wave

All cellular networks use airwaves to ferry data over the air, with standard networks using spectrum in lower-frequency bands like 700 megahertz. Generally, the higher the band or frequency, the higher the speed you can achieve. The consequence of higher frequency, however, is shorter range.
To achieve those crazy-high 5G speeds, you need really, really high frequency spectrum. The millimeter wave range falls between 24 gigahertz and 100 gigahertz.
The problem with super-high-frequency spectrum, besides the short range, is it's pretty finicky -- a leaf blows the wrong way and you get interference. Forget about obstacles like walls. Companies like Verizon are working on using software and broadcasting tricks to get around these problems and ensure stable connections.

Small cell

Traditional cellular coverage typically stems from gigantic towers littered with different radios and antennas. Those antennas are able to broadcast signals at a great distance, so you don't need a lot of them. Small cells are the opposite: backpack-size radios can be hung up on street lamps, poles, rooftops or other areas. They can broadcast a 5G signal only at a short range, so the idea is to have a large number of them in a densely packed network. 
Some cities have this kind of dense network in place, but if you go outside the metro area, that's where small cells become more of a challenge. 


Given how troublesome really high-band spectrum can be (see the "millimeter wave" section above), there's a movement to embrace spectrum at a much lower frequency, or anything lower than 6GHz. The additional benefit is that carriers can use spectrum they already own to get going on 5G networks. T-Mobile, for instance, has a swath of 600MHz spectrum it plans to use to power its 5G deployment. Prior to sub-6GHz, that would've been impossible.
That's why you're seeing more carriers embrace lower-frequency spectrum.
But lower-frequency spectrum has the opposite problem: While it reaches great distances, it doesn't have the same speed and capacity as millimeter wave spectrum.
The ideal down the line will be for carriers to use a blend of the two.

Gigabit LTE

You're hearing more about Gigabit LTE as a precursor to 5G. Ultimately it's about much higher speeds on the existing LTE network. But the work going toward building a Gigabit LTE network provides the foundation for 5G.
For more on Gigabit LTE, read our explainer here.


An abbreviation of "multiple input, multiple output." Basically, it's the idea of shoving more antennas into our phones and on cellular towers. And you can always have more antennas. They feed into the faster Gigabit LTE network, and companies are deploying what's known as 4x4 MIMO, in which four antennas are installed in a phone.

Carrier aggregation 

Wireless carriers can take different bands of radio frequencies and bind them together so phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 can pick and choose the speediest and least congested one available. Think of it as a three-lane highway so cars can weave in and out depending on which lane has less traffic.


This is a term that's so highly technical, I don't even bother to explain the nuance. It stands for quadrature amplitude modulation. See? Don't even worry about it.
What you need to know is that it allows traffic to move quickly in a different way than carrier aggregation or MIMO. Remember that highway analogy? Well, with 256 QAM, you'll have big tractor trailers carrying data instead of tiny cars. MIMO, carrier aggregation and QAM are already going into 4G networks, but they play an important role in 5G too.

Beam forming 

This is a way to direct 5G signals in a specific direction, potentially giving you your own specific connection. Verizon has been using beam forming for millimeter wave spectrum, getting around obstructions like walls or trees.

Unlicensed spectrum 

Cellular networks all rely on what's known as licensed spectrum, which they own and purchased from the government.
But the move to 5G comes with the recognition that there just isn't enough spectrum when it comes to maintaining wide coverage. So the carriers are moving to unlicensed spectrum, similar to the kind of free airwaves that our Wi-Fi networks ride on.

Network slicing

This is the ability to carve out individual slivers of spectrum to offer specific devices the kind of connection they need. For instance, the same cellular tower can offer a lower-power, slower connection to a sensor for a connected water meter in your home while at the same time offering a faster, lower-latency connection to a self-driving car that's navigating in real time.
Are you hearing more 5G-related terms that confuse you? Contact us and we'll update this story with additional terms.
Originally published Feb. 9, 2018, 5 a.m. PT.
Updates, Sept. 27, Oct. 17 and Nov. 13: Adds new details; Dec. 3 and 4: Includes details about the Qualcomm event; Dec. 18: Adds details about AT&T's 5G launch; April 4, 2019: Adds new details on Verizon's launch; May 17: Includes details about Verizon's follow-up speed test; May 31: Adds information about Sprint and EE launching 5G service; Oct. 25: Includes new details about a T-Mobile phone launch and updated stats.
Correction, May 18: In October, Verizon launched its disputed 5G service in select neighborhoods of Houston, not Dallas.
5G: Your Next Big Upgrade: CNET's series on the next generation of cellular technology.
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