5G networks are coming in 2020: here are the speeds and advantages to expect

I still remember the day when I first accessed the internet from a mobile device. It was in the early 2000's, when I owned a Motorola T720 flip phone. Its data connection allowed me to download ringtones, wallpapers, even games from the web, which was quite an adventure back then. But it was also kind of slow, and even a single image took a long while to load, even when it was the size of a postage stamp.

Today's 4G phone networks are literally over a thousand times faster, but even that won't be able to meet the demand for data traffic of future applications. That is why a whole new generation of cellular communications standards is already in development, and 5G isn't far from becoming the next hottest tech buzzword. But how did we get here and what is 5G going to change? Let us explain.

Gee, how did we get to 5G?

Back in the '80s – when Billy Jean rocked the charts and the fanny pack was a must-have accessory – cellular phones were purely analog devices. Kind of like high-tech walkie-talkies, they were made strictly for voice calls and could not transmit digital information. Not even a text message, for that matter.

Texting capabilities came to cell phones in the early '90s, with the deployment of second-generation cellular networks, which were all digital. The 2G era also saw the arrival of data services to cell phones – email, multimedia messages, and yes, downloading pictures and ringtones from the internet.

Launched in the early 2000's, 3G networks allowed even faster data exchange. This enabled face-to-face video conversations, the kind of which people had only seen in Star Trek and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series. But users weren't in a hurry to jump on board the 3G wagon. Even the first iPhone, launched in 2007, was still a 2G device.

Speaking of the iPhone, the rise of the smartphone was what fueled the development of even faster cellular networks. This new breed of cell phones could put cellular data to better use, and people didn't like staring at that spinning circle as their YouTube video was buffering. Hence, the fourth generation of cellular networks was already in operation by the late 2000's, with support for even greater data speeds. 

How fast is 5G, and what do we need it for?

At the typical data speed provided by today's 4G LTE networks (between 10 and 30 megabits per second in a realistic scenario), a high-definition movie can be downloaded in a matter of minutes. That is fast indeed, but when it comes to cellular networks, data speed is just one of the many factors to consider.

In the near future, our smartphones will not be the only devices requiring a 24/7 data connection. Self-driving cars, autonomous drones, IoT appliances, smart wearables, and infrastructure solutions are expected to raise the demand for cellular data, hence next-gen technologies are being developed with capacity in mind. In other words, 5G will be expected to reliably and simultaneously serve a much greater number of connected devices. 

At the same time, 5G networks will be designed to be flexible, responding to the particular usage scenario. Some applications might require super-fast data exchange, while others may demand a rock-stable connection with minimum latency. No matter the case, 5G should be able to adapt and deliver the best possible user experience.

Actual 5G data speeds will vary from one application to another, but rates between tens of megabits and tens of gigabits per second are to be achievable. Overkill? By today's standards, probably. Awesome? Most definitely, yes! All of this extra bandwidth will allow the delivery of services that current 4G networks can't quite handle. Think 4K, 8K, 360-degree video streaming, real-time augmented and virtual reality experiences over the web, massive online multiplayer games with zero delay issues, and more. 

When is 5G going to launch?

You might have heard the news that Verizon wants to be the first carrier to launch 5G service in the US. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will surely follow suit with their own 5G solutions. That, however, is not expected to happen before the turn of the decade.

5G still has a long way to go before it is ready for commercial use. Network technologies have yet to be defined and standardized, wireless spectrum has to be allocated, and hardware needs to be developed. All of this takes time and resources. But if all goes according to schedule, a pre-standardized 5G network will go live in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. This will be a soft launch, mind you, made to test-drive the new technology in real-world conditions. A standardized, commercial 5G network is expected to launch in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. By that time, 5G networks will be also up and running in South Korea and China. 

As for the US, all four major carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint – have begun testing and demoing the capabilities of fifth-generation wireless technologies. 5G, however, won't be available to the masses before 2020.  

5G is going to be awesome, right?

Yeah, that's for sure, but until it lands in its final form, let's be realistic about 5G. The experience for early adopters might not be exactly great. 

At first, there will be coverage issues. Remember how spotty 4G was when it launched? Chances are the case with 5G networks will be no different until they are built densely enough. Making matters worse, the specifics of 5G might make it so that each 5G tower would cover a smaller area compared to a 4G one, so it could be easier to fall out of range. 

Then there's network speed. Of course, it goes without saying that 5G will be faster than 4G, but theoretical data rates are one thing, and real-world performance is a whole different story. In other words, 5G networks won't be quite as fast as current field trials suggest. For example, T-Mobile recently achieved a download speed of 12 gigabits per second during a 5G network test. This is 1200 times faster than the average speed of a 4G LTE network in the US. But the test was conducted using equipment that is never going to be within the reach of the average consumer. In reality, 5G is expected to be only about 10 times faster than current 4G networks – still a solid upgrade, we'd say. 

In the meantime, 4G will continue to evolve and serve the increasing number of users and devices demanding bandwidth. And when 5G finally lands, the two network generations are surely to co-exist for quite some time. 

PhoneArena is on Instagram. Follow us to stay updated with fresh news and flashy media from the world of mobile!



1. AlikMalix unregistered

One of the reasons I'm holding on to my unlimited data plan.

2. tedkord

Posts: 17453; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Yep. Isn't it wonderful how they keep messing easier and faster to blow throw a data cap? But, it's only a matter of time before Verizon either tells me I can't have it anymore, or prices it out of reach.

3. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2475; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

They've already set limits too. I'm sure that once 5G comes out they will make sure that they pay special attention to this limit as it will become easier to reach it using up that much data to push 4K content and what not: http://www.droid-life.com/2016/07/26/fyi-verizon-unlimited-data-plan-no-longer-unlimited/

6. snatchlax17

Posts: 52; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

I ponder they'll make a stipulation that you can't upgrade to 5G with a current unlimited grandfathered 4G plan, that is if those grandfathered plans can even make it to that time...Damn their attempts to bump us off

9. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

That happened for a short time, I believe, when 4G rolled out, but 2020 is 3 years from now so we'll see what the carriers do at that time. We have yet to see the 1gbps on 4G, which is supposed to be 4G speed, but it's nowhere near that fast.

10. snatchlax17

Posts: 52; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

Yea I remember they put up a stink going from a 3G phone (common offender I believe was the iPhone 4S) to an LTE SIM. From the looks of it, if I comprehended what I read correctly, that the speeds may be what we expected 4G to be?

13. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

Correct. The promise of cray cray 4G speed seems to have topped out at 100mbps if you're lucky (I get 65mbps on Verizon in my area).

18. thephoneguy2017

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 11, 2017

there truly no need for an "unlimited data plan" with 5G service when it migrates to cellphone service. First off there is no true unlimited plan with any other carrier other than Verizon if you've been grandfathered in-they all throttle users after a certain cap. Secondly, with 5G you will be streaming a minimum of 10,000mbps up to 150Gbps. Therefore carriers will offer much larger data packages that can support said speeds i.e. 500GB, 800 GB, 1TB data packages. Unlimited data plans will be irrelevant- however with the increase in tech growth between VR and gaming consoles your usage may spike and you will need surely a high tiered data package.

4. mr.reckless562

Posts: 162; Member since: Dec 22, 2016

why cant we just put antennas on streetlights or something? we should vote on it here, "would u have higher taxes to get 5g in your city next year, ah la a ww2 nationwide effort or space program effort." id vote for that. i had a longer post but i lost it on my clipboard lol

5. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Ten times faster than 4G... That's insanely good. But 2020 isn't near enough for me to become excited about 5G!

7. Tizo101

Posts: 595; Member since: Jun 05, 2015

So I should have proper 4G (any of the 3 types) speeds and coverage by 2020...

8. XDAdam

Posts: 276; Member since: Feb 03, 2016

In the meantime, Sprint scrambles to continue to deploy 4G and to close up dead spots...

11. yyuu1000

Posts: 260; Member since: Jul 26, 2012

We need better coverage first. I don't care if i don't have the fastest 5g as long as coverage is good

12. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

And here I am, just upgrading my home internet to 4G LTE Cat.4 speeds (Shaw Internet 150), while LTE Advanced is offers almost 7x faster speed, not to talk of 5G...

14. toyboyz

Posts: 235; Member since: Jan 22, 2010

So that time traveler on the dark web was telling the truth. ;)

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.