First, it may be helpful to review previous generations of mobile networks…
1G First generation – 1980s:
1G delivered analog voice. Made the first mobile phones possible.
2G Second generation – Early 1990s:
2G introduced digital voice (e.g. CDMA- Code Division Multiple Access). Allowed for SMS text messages and multimedia messages (MMS).
3G Third generation – Early 2000s:
3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000). Web connectivity was standardized. This led to the rise of video conferencing, video streaming, and voice-over IP.
4G Fourth generation – 2010s:
4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband. The streaming era, gaming, HD videos, and video conferences. Phones need to be specifically made to run 4G services.
5G Fifth generation – 2019+:
The Internet of Things era supports advanced networks between smartphones, homes, appliances, automobiles, aircraft, etc. It requires more towers with more advanced and expensive equipment to bring faster speeds.
Currently, the US is almost completely covered by the 4G network. This means nearly all Americans live in an area with access to 4G LTE service. With 4G reaching its full potential, the 5G network began development. It is important to understand that 5G is not meant to completely replace 4G but to work simultaneously with it. The main benefit of the 5G network is nearly 10x the speed with decreased latency and the ability to support 100x more people. With high speeds, superior reliability, and negligible latency, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into new realms. 5G will impact every industry making for safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, digitized logistics, etc. a reality. The main issue that arises with 5G is limited range and the inability to penetrate obstructions. 4G towers provide coverage within 10 miles of a tower while 5G is only capable of providing coverage up to about 1600ft. This is the main reason the next generation will be built using both 4G and 5G services together.