Pop Quiz on 5G: TRUE or FALSE
- If we are going to have 5G, mobile phones must have started with 1G.
- If we have 5G turned on tomorrow, we can have all the applications that that we see in demo videos: self-driving cars, remote surgery, delivery drones.
- I should upgrade to a 5G phone now since they are being sold everywhere.
- 5G causes cancer and spreads COVID-19.
All you wanted to know about 5G but was afraid to ask
Jakkolab is starting a newsletter series on 5G. We will address some commonly asked questions where the right answers may be difficult to find or understand.
Why is it called 5G? I have heard of 4G and even 3G. What differentiates them?
The official name of 5G is International Mobile Telecommunications 2020 or IMT-2020, which are both names are bad for marketing purposes. So, it was shortened to 5G in line with previous versions of mobile technologies.
Mobile phone technology started in 1970s with analogue which was 1G. It featured only voice and phones were huge because the battery and chip technologies were still in infancy. As the technology was analogue, it was easy to eavesdrop on. So, privacy was a concern.
2G is digital and came in 1990s. Many countries still use it. It has encryption and it allowed short messaging and some low-speed data of up to 114 kbps. That speed was good for downloading emails and ringtones.
3G is a transition network. It kept the 2G traditional digitized voice network and added a “high-speed” data network. Maximum data speed was up to 21Mbps. This gave decent music download and video streaming. It was also the start of the popularisation of phones without buttons.
4G or LTE networks are all-digital based fully on Internet Protocol (IP). The old, digitised voice circuit network is discarded. It was good enough to upload videos with maximum speeds of up to 1.5Gbps. It certainly made Instagram video and live streaming possible and gave jobs to many vloggers and online sellers during this COVID-19 pandemic.
5G is a natural numeric progression with up to 20Gbps and promises at least 100Mbps for every subscriber. Besides traditional smart phones, there will be many new classes of wearable devices for consumers and workers, and many more connections coming from sensors and machines. See Fig 3 & 4 below. In 2020, “Research and Markets” estimates that 5G and IoT devices will be a $1.7 billion market by 2025.
5G will also start using frequency bands of 24GHz and above as it is extremely difficult to find contiguous chunks of 80 to 100MHz frequencies in the lower bands; much of those lower frequencies are still being used for commercial, broadcast, security and military applications. Unfortunately, 24GHz phone signals don’t to go through walls and floors very well.
Are these 5G applications touted in advertisements, magazines, and other promos, real?
5G networks that are deployed today in China, South Korea, EU and US comes in 2 flavours. One uses an entirely new network which promises dedicated connections. It’s called a Standalone network (SA). With this network, you can run all the new applications you see in advertisements: driverless buses, smart security robots and remote surgery.
The other 5G flavour, which is rolled out 90%+ of the time, uses 5G radio with an older 4G core network. Operators chose this path because it enables them to show off some 5G capabilities quickly. But there are limitations to this network (called Non-Standalone or NSA because it needs to rely on 4G). You can still have good data speeds but the speed and quick response times may not be guaranteed.
Is 5G the only technology to run such advertised applications? Not necessary but it’s a long discussion that it’s best to attend a Dream Catcher comparative course on 5G and IOT to find out.
Should I upgrade to a 5G phone now? Why are they so expensive?
5G phones are appearing with every major brand now but should you upgrade to this shiny new toy now?
Before you upgrade, make sure the country and the area you are in has 5G network connections. Next, make sure the phone supports the same frequency bands as your serving operator. This is especially important if you decide to bring a phone in from another country or market.
However, if you MUST always buy the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, then it doesn’t really matter.
If you are picking up a pre-loved phone, make sure it supports both SA and NSA networks as in previous question. Some of the first generation 5G phones only support NSA.
Still why so expensive? For a start, 5G phones are now marketed in the premium range for any phone maker: Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo. This was the same when 4G was launched. Furthermore, a 5G phone must be compatible with all standards from 2G to 5G so there is more software to run and the phone needs more processing power which means more battery power.
5G also uses microwave frequencies beyond 6GHz, especially in the 24 to 26 GHz region. To receive signals at these frequencies, the phone needs a special set of antennas, an even larger battery and more internal space, all of which add to the manufacturing costs. Eventually, economy of scale will make everything more efficient and cheaper, just like in 4G.
Health concerns around 5G
Most health concerns of 5G are related to the radio frequencies used. There are also many false claims that 5G is spreading COVID-19.
Currently, 5G uses frequencies that are already deployed: frequencies below 1GHz is used in 2G, 3.5GHz is near the WiFi bands of 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The higher band of 26GHz is used in some satellite communications. None of the 5G frequencies are in the ionising radiation frequencies like X-ray or ultraviolet. So, there is no immediate physical damage to cells due to direct radiation from 5G range of radio frequencies.
What about the famous US National Toxicology Programme  2-year study on rats that published its final results in 2018? (Yes, make sure you read the FINAL results.)
There are disputes as to whether:
- study was well-designed (general consensus was yes)
- those tested frequencies and usage patterns were valid and applicable (we don’t use phones in the same way as the test and the frequency tested and those used in 5G are very different)
The jury is out on this one. More studies are needed but definitely the radio frequencies themselves are NOT in the ionising radiation range that can cause cell DNA damage.
No, 5G does not cause COVID-19. Most countries in Southeast Asia do not have 5G yet but COVID-19 infections are happening.
Want to Learn More?
Jakkolab jointly develops 5G Courses with Dream Catcher. Here are some popular ones:
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1. TRUE, 2. FALSE, 3. Depends, 4. FALSE