If you haven't heard about 5G wireless yet, you're about to.
Though 5G is still a few years away, it's being hyped by wireless industry heavyweights including San Diego's Qualcomm at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain this week.
The upcoming fifth generation of cellular technology promises fibre optic-like download speeds, better coverage, nearly imperceptible transmission delays and low-energy links to power machine-to-machine communications – all in one network.
With smartphone sales slowing globally, Qualcomm joined 21 other wireless behemoths in calling for accelerating the industry's 5G timetable to 2019 instead of 2020.
"Companies like Ericsson want to sell new back-office and cell-site equipment," said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research. "The carriers want to offer better bandwidth to their users than the other guy. So there is a lot of incentive for the ecosystem to keep moving forward."
What is 5G? It is the next advance in wireless networks – tapping complex airwave-sharing techniques, beam-forming antennas, interference-coordination coding and millimetre-wave spectrum to boost performance and lower costs.
The technologies aim for peak download speeds more than 10 times faster than the today's best 4G LTE technology – powering everything from fast movie downloads and more life-like virtual reality.
5G also reduces transmission delays, called latency, so mobile networks can be used for mission-critical services such as self-driving cars, long-distance health monitoring and remote piloting of drones.
On top of that, 5G networks would be flexible enough to provide reliable, low power, machine-to-machine communications for smart cities and other Internet of Things connections.
It's still early for 5G. The mobile industry is hammering out a common technology language so devices and network gear can talk with each other. The first official 5G New Radio standard is expected to be released in the fall of 2018.
But that hasn't stopped the wireless industry from launching 5G tests ahead of the standard.
Qualcomm, for example, is teaming with network equipment makers including Ericsson and ZTE for 5G trials with carriers such as AT&T, China Mobile, Japan's NTT DOCOMO, Europe's Vodafone and Telstra of Australia, among others.
This week, Qualcomm introduced an integrated 5G cellular radio for smartphones that supports 2G/3G/4G and 5G technologies on a single chip.
Called the Snapdragon X50 5G NR, the chip aims to encourage faster adoption of 5G, because cellular operators could fall back to 3G/4G technology to function in places where 5G gear hadn't been installed.
Qualcomm expects its Snapdragon X50 modems to show up in commercial products such as smartphones by 2019.
Intel also has announced a 5G cellular radios, although it doesn't include previous generations of wireless technologies as a fall back.
"When you feel you have a lead in the technology, you push it," said Krewell, the Tirias Research analyst.
"I think that is what Qualcomm is doing. I think Intel feels they can catch up and be competitive because they have invested a lot of research and development into 5G." — The San Diego Union-Tribune/Tribune News Service
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