5G is the fifth generation telecommunications technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in late 2018, and is the successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cellphones. Like its predecessors, the service areas of 5G networks are divided into smaller geographical areas called cells. All 5G wireless devices in a cell are connected to the Internet and telephone network by radio waves through a local antenna in the cell. The main advantage of the new networks is that they will have greater bandwidth, giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbit/s). Due to the increased bandwidth, it is expected that the new networks will not just serve cellphones like existing cellular networks, but also be used as general internet service providers for laptops and desktop computers, competing with existing ISPs such as cable internet, and also will make possible new applications in internet of things (IoT) and machine to machine areas. Current 4G cellphones will not be able to use the new networks, which will require new 5G enabled wireless devices.
The increased speed is achieved partly by using higher-frequency radio waves than current cellular networks. However, higher-frequency radio waves have a shorter range than the frequencies used by previous cell phone towers, requiring smaller cells. To ensure wide service, 5G networks operate on up to three frequency bands, low, medium, and high. A 5G network will be composed of networks of up to 3 different types of cells, each requiring different antennas, each type giving a different tradeoff of download speed vs. distance and service area. 5G cellphones and wireless devices will connect to the network through the highest speed antenna within range at their location:
- Low-band cell towers will have a range and coverage area similar to existing 4G towers.
- Mid-band 5G uses microwaves of 2.5-3.7 GHz, currently allowing speeds of 100-900 Mbit/s, with each cell tower providing service up to several miles in radius. This level of service is the most widely deployed, and became available in many metropolitan areas in 2020. Some countries are not implementing low-band, making this the minimum service level.
- High-band 5G currently uses frequencies of 25–39 GHz, near the bottom of the millimeter wave band, with the potential for higher frequencies in the future. It often achieves download speeds of a gigabit per second (Gbit/s), comparable to cable internet. However, millimeter waves (mmWave or mmW) have a more limited range, requiring many small cells. They have trouble passing through some types of walls and windows. Due to their higher costs, current plans are to deploy these cells only in dense urban environments and areas where crowds of people congregate such as sports stadiums and convention centers. The above speeds are those achieved in actual tests in 2020, and speeds are expected to increase during rollout.
The industry consortium setting standards for 5G is the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). It defines any system using 5G NR (5G New Radio) software as "5G", a definition that came into general use by late 2018. Minimum standards are set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Previously, some reserved the term 5G for systems that deliver download speeds of 20 Gbit/s as specified in the ITU's IMT-2020 document.
Preliminary deployments before the 5G NR standard include: 5G-SIG, developed by KT Corporation for use at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and 5GTF developed by Verizon for Fixed Wireless Access in 2019. In early 2019, AT&T was criticized for marketing improvements to existing low-band 4G LTE infrastructure as "5G Evolution" or "5GE", though no other carriers had done so.
During an Apple special event on October 13, 2020 in which the iPhone 12 line was launched, Verizon Communications CEO Hans Vestberg stated that "5G just got real" with a major expansion of its 5G network, available to 200 million people in American cities. This was made possible through "dynamic spectrum sharing" (DSS) of low and mid-band 5G signals (sub-6GHz) on its existing 4G LTE network.
Support in Apple devices
- Low and mid-bands: n1, n2, n3, n5, n7, n8, n12, n20, n25, n28, n38, n40, n41, n66, n71, n77, n78, n79
- High-bands: (mmWave) n260, n261
5G radio signals consume more power than preceding technologies, such as 4G LTE. If the full available bandwidth is not needed, Smart Data Mode allows supported iPhone models to automatically switch down to a lower frequency (including 4G LTE) to conserve battery life.
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