First, let’s explain how a mobile network works. You will hear the terms cellular network and cell towers. A telephone operator’s mobile network (that is, with its own cell phone towers) has a network of cells that essentially look like a honeycomb, but each cell overlaps.
In the center of each cell is a mobile phone tower with an antenna. Your mobile handset connects to the nearest antenna which allows you to make a call or transfer data. When you are traveling, for example in a car, the call is transmitted from cell tower to cell tower as you travel.
In Australia, operators buy spectrum or more simply radio channels at auction from the government. They then use these channels to allow you to make calls. Each cell has a different channel to the next cell. There are not enough channels for each tower to have a unique channel, so the channels are reused when they no longer interfere with another cell using the same channel.
Back to 5G which means 5e Generation. Simply
- 1G (1981) only phone calls
- 2G Calls and SMS (1998)
- Calls, SMS and 3G Internet (2001)
- 4G (2008) calls, SMS, faster internet and video
- 5G calling (2020), SMS, blazing fast internet, 4K video and low latency information transfer
The practical benefits of using a 5G handset or modem are as follows:
- Less congestion, which practically means faster speeds when many people try to use the internet from their mobile
- Faster upload and download speeds. In theory, the speed is much faster than NBN, so you can download large files faster.
- Low latency refers to reaction times. How long after pressing a button does something happen? Think of the first smartphones when you took a picture, there was a delay between pressing the button and taking the picture. It’s the latency and if you wanted an instant reaction like controlling a drone via 5G, that could make the difference compared to the crash.
The downside to 5G is that phones / modems and potentially plans are more expensive and coverage is poorer. If you can’t get 5G coverage, a phone will fall back to 4G. If you can’t get 4G, a phone will revert to 3G.
A 5G network can offer faster speeds etc. because it uses high frequency channels. This is because in Australia only lower channels have been released (below 6 GHz) for 5G and in 2021 we will see higher frequency channels (mmWave 24.25-100 GHz). These high frequency channels have the disadvantage of not having the same range.
A 4G phone must be able to connect to an obstacle-free tower 10 km away. For 5G, this is reduced to 300m. In a city you have towers much closer than 10 km to each other to get the capacity, but that means to get similar coverage with 5G you will need 30 times as many towers in the same area.
So higher frequency gives you more speed and more revs gives you more capacity. In addition, a higher frequency will not pass through obstacles such as walls, as well as a lower frequency. Thus, 4G will continue to offer you better coverage within buildings.
In summary, you’ll see more base stations like this in Chatswood, NSW. Fortunately, they are smaller. New technology is coming for 5G, so you’ll likely need another new phone to take advantage of it. Prices are likely to continue to drop and we will have a faster, more responsive internet.