5G is an investment for the rest of this decade — and as in previous mobile transitions, we’ve seen most of the big changes happening years after the first announcement.
While the major U.S. carriers rolled out 5G in May or later of 2019, true standalone (SA) 5G is not expected to start until later in 2020 or in early 2021.
5G stands for fifth-generation cellular wireless, and the initial standards for it were set at the end of 2017. Eventually, standalone 5G is expected to bring three new aspects to the table: bigger channels (to speed up data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).
As of summer 2020, all 5G devices in the U.S. (for now) need aspects of 5G’s predecessor 4G to lean on to make initial connections before trading up to stand alone 5G when it’s available. What is technically known to exist right now is a non standalone (NSA) 5G network.
5G gives carriers more options in terms of airwaves than 4G did. Most notably, it opens up “high-band,” short-range airwaves called microwaves (mmWaves) that didn’t work with 4G technology. But 5G can run on any frequency, leading to three very different kinds of 5G experiences—low, middle and high.
Right now, networks need to put up “walls” between their 4G and 5G channels. The two can’t coexist closely. Later in 2020, that is expected to change with a technology called dynamic spectrum sharing, or DSS.
DSS makes the walls flexible and movable, so carriers can dynamically split channels between 4G and 5G based on demand. AT&T and Verizon will both be using DSS heavily, and that will require DSS-compatible phones.
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