There’s been a lot of buzz about 5G Technology over the last year—much of it, sadly, none too coherent. Today, we’re going to take a look at how we can expect 5G to improve cellular broadband.. With a focus on the impact we might be able to expect on gaming. Surprise: the news is actually not bad!
What is 5G?
5G is next generation wireless network technology that’s will change the way people live and work. It will be faster and able to handle more connected devices than the existing 4G LTE network, improvements that will enable a wave of new kinds of tech products. 5G networks began rolling out in the United States and around the world in 2018 and are still in their early days, but experts say the potential is huge.
Before we can talk about what to expect from 5G, we need to talk about what 5G actually is—and isn’t. 5G, short for “fifth generation,” is the next cellular communications protocol. 5G is not, specifically, any given frequency or band. There are two major bands 5G can operate on—millimeter wave, and sub-6GHz. Exactly which frequencies within those bands your devices will use varies from carrier to carrier, and country to country.
The sub-6GHz band isn’t new territory; the frequencies in use there are the same ones carriers already use for 4G / LTE service. Sub-6Ghz has low-band—under 1GHz—and mid-band, at 2.5GHz-3.5GHz. Low-band offers greater range from the tower, but at lower speeds; the mid-band offers greater speed, but lower range. It’s worth noting that “lower range” isn’t necessarily a curse—the greater the range from the tower, the more users you have sharing the same finite amount of airtime, and the lower the speeds and less predictable the latency you’ll see.
While we do expect 5G to be significantly better than 4G on sub-6GHz bands, millimeter wave—around 24GHz-39GHz in the USA—is what most of the breathless 5G coverage you’ve seen in the past specifically refers to.
The amount of sheer bandwidth available to millimeter wave—or just “mmWave” for short—is pretty crazy. The spec allows 800MHz individual channel widths, at which we can expect edge data rates (the lower boundary of rates you’d see from a reliable connection) of 400Mbps.
But throughput isn’t usually the killer metric for gaming—latency is. We’re going to cast a more skeptical eye at this later, but mmWave is eventually expected to provide OTA (over the air) latency of under one millisecond.