Before thinking about 5G, 6G, or any other kind of ‘G,’ first you have to think about radio waves. Radio waves have been bouncing around the universe since the beginning of time. Cosmic background radiation, along with other forms of radio waves, such those from the Sun, keeps us bathed in a soup of what is the electromagnetic spectrum.
This results in a finite band of frequencies left which can be used to send and receive data— the rest of it is too dangerous or inefficient. Data can be sent over these waves by manufacturing imperfections, in a comparable way to how sound waves are produced from a speaker.
Rubber Ducks and Radio Waves
If you place a rubber duck in the bathtub and wait until the water is perfectly calm, then bob the duck up and down; the duck will make small waves that will bounce off of the side of the tub. These waves will have a specific propagation speed, amplitude (or height) and wavelength. When it comes to radio waves the speed is the speed of light, the amplitude comes from the power put into producing the signal, and the wavelength is the inverse of frequency (aka 1 divided by the frequency, with the frequency being the time for one complete cycle).
Adding Information into Waves
If you want to put more information into the wave, then the shape of the wave needs to be modified. This can be done by varying the amplitude between each wave crest and creating shapes in the wave. The shapes come from adding two or more waves (out of phase) of the same frequency together.
This interference pattern can have multiple waves of the same frequency added to transmit complicated information. By having separate waves interfering, not only can data be transmitted but the signal can be boosted with little increase in power requirements.
For the geeks out there who actually want to understand this:
1G (First Generation)
By the end of the 19th century, the concept of using radio waves to transmit data had taken hold. On June 14th, 1899 Brazilian Father Roberto Landell de Moura was the first to send his spoken words wirelessly a distance of 7 km. Later, he sent a transatlantic transmission at 850 kHz.
This development rapidly grew. Eventually his machine has the ability to connect ships in remote areas. Incredibly enough, the first concept of mobile phones used this frequency for unsecured conversations. It is simply amazing how long this idea stuck around. Imagine, a 100 year-old frequency; it is pretty cool.
2G (Second Generation)
The 90s brought forward the first GSM mobile phone that used digitally encoded frequencies in the 800 to 1900 MHz range, depending on the country and patents. Then, there was a revolutionary upgrade to 2.5G, or GPRS as it was known.
The internet was booming in the 90s and anyone that used the first GPRS phones thought that surfing the internet on the go was a truly amazing feat. Which, it truly was, however slow it might have been. At its peak, the modified 2G-EGPRS could only achieve 1Mbit/sec (125 kilobytes per second).
3G & 4G Technology
These technologies run at a minimum of 0.2 MBit/s up to 300 Mbit/s for 3.95 G. They were in common use for ten years until 2011 with the introduction of 4G. 4G uses a broad spectrum of frequencies, from 700 MHz (previously used for TV) to 2600 MHz.
This is where we are now, getting deep into the microwave spectrum at 300MHz-300GHz. A microwave oven is about 2.4GHz. As a rule of thumb, the higher the frequency the faster the data can be transmitted. The EHF 300GHz (millimetre wave) has a huge advantage over the earlier systems in that data can be transmitted at superfast speeds over a very narrow bandwidth.
MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) was introduced to increase the speed of a connection without increasing the overall power. With MIMO WiFi, multiple antennas work together to create a directional signal. This avoids destructive interference of signals bouncing off walls. It also helps reduce signal quality. The only bad thing is that whoever is holding the wireless devices might get a concentrated microwave blast to the face (kids, don’t try this at home).
Conceived in 2004 and first deployed in 2009, LTE was intended as a way to extend the use of the existing telecoms infrastructure. It is said to be able to hit 1000Mbit/s (125,000 KB/sec or 125 MB/sec). To put this in comparison, an HD video streamed directly from YouTube needs around 4Mbit/s.
So why bother going faster? Emails are not that big and streaming a movie at home requires a fraction of that. It does not seem to make much sense.
4G-LTE was nearly called 3.95G since it was not able to fulfill all the criteria required to be true 4G. Actual 4G technology came out about the same time as 5G was just being put through the paces.
It was a bit like going to a car dealership, having the money to buy a new VW Beetle, and then buying a 5 year-old VW beetle instead. In some respects the 5 year-old beetle may be the better buy. Also, it will not make a blind bit of difference in the time it takes to get to work in the morning.
4G Factoid: The International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced (IMT-A Standard) said that 4G LTE did not hit all the marks required to be deemed “true 4G.” The 4G LTE networks failed to achieve the high bandwidths available on a true 4G network. It would have needed to exceed a rate of 1 Gbit/s for stationary use and 100 Mbit/s for mobile use. It never reached anywhere close to that. Even now it only tops out at about 53 Mbit/s on even the fastest networks.
A geeks we know a lot about lag. “It’s so laggy.” You hear gamers say it all the time. While this may be true for many applications and games, current internet speeds are incredibly fast. No one really expected the popularity of mobile gaming and 4K video calls. This has forced the network providers to up their game.
The new demands on speeds also derive from the up-and-coming driverless cars using artificial intelligence (AI). These AI systems need a super-fast wireless connection to update networks of their various activities. The implementation of a super-fast 5G network is needed to combat the impractically of installing expensive fiber optic cables in remote locations.
5G networks are said to have a peak speed of 50 Gbit/s using frequencies up to 95 GHz. Interestingly enough, this is the same frequency that is used in the “Non-Lethal” Active Denial System.
One of the upsides to 5G is no more lag. The 3G network had a latency of 150ms and 4G LTE around 40ms. The 5G network is going to have a latency in the range of a 1ms to 30ms. The only thing that will be “laggy” about the 5G network will be when the user blinks.
Another upside of increased speeds is that a home WiFi router might kicked to the curb. Why? Well, 5G uses MIMO and a higher frequency than the previous systems, so it is not so good with concrete walls (or people, for that matter). The penetration of the 5G frequency is similar to that from a microwave oven. Contrary to some peoples’ beliefs, the radiation produced from 5G is extremely weak and not harmful.
One downside of 5G is that it has a weak weak frequency band. As a result, 200-300-Watt cell towers are going to be posted every 300 meters or less. Compare that to the 5 km spacing of current towers. Despite the concentration of antennas, this will not be the same as putting your head inside a microwave oven, unless that you stand right next to the cell transmitter (not recommended).
For gaming, AI, and automated automobiles, this move forward was inevitable. People sitting in a car that drives itself might not have much better to do than play high frame-rate computer games. VR has also made a resurgence in recent years, and as products gets cheaper and run faster, wireless internet will require more speed.
6G should be coming by around 2030. Man will be living on the Moon, Mars or strapped into a VR suit surfing the cloud in real-time. Little will change other than the fact that portable devices will be used to communicate data on the environment around you (because at this point I expect no one will be talking to each other). Communicating with each other will just be a one-a-day 16K selfie video streamed to your friend’s mobile networking device.
What Is Happening Now
Currently, manufacturers are looking to jump at least another 20X in speed over 5G, possible peaking at 1Tb/s. A frequency range of 95 gigahertz (GHz) to 3 terahertz (THz) range is going up for sale to the telecoms providers. This would put latency down to 30 microseconds as we get closer to the visible light spectrum, from microwaves deeper into the far infrared. It would probably also mean that the towers would have to be in every home to produce a coherent signal. Additionally, the power for each transmitter would need to be boosted.
You Will Never Be Cold Again
The human body is good at absorbing these frequencies, heating up in the process. On the upside, it has been recorded that FIR can penetrate up to 5 cm into human tissue, soothing pains as it heats up the muscles. Consider this: if you can ignore the heavy burning sensation of FIR, a recent report says that it may actually be repair cells in your body.
Personally, I just want to make a normal phone call…