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By Mario McKellop

As the major wireless carriers are preparing to launch their 5G networks soon, the technology has been in the news a lot recently. However, details regarding what 5G is, how it works and what the wider implications of its implementation mean have been scare. To clear things up, here’s a look at what 5G is and how will likely drive STEAM innovation in the United States.

The History of Wireless Communication Technology

The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile wireless communication technology. The first generation (1G), which was introduced in 1982, allowed for analog calls to be made using large handsets with poor battery life. 2G, introduced in the late ‘80s, let owners make calls as well as send text and picture messages with more managed mobile devices. 3G, which was launched in 2000, allowed for data services and the rise of smartphones. And 4G, implemented in the early 2010s, permitted high-speed data transmission comparable to home broadband internet.

What Is 5G?

5G, which is slated to be launched nationwide in 2019 and 2020, will allow data speeds in the gigabits per second range. It does this by transmitting data on the extremely high-frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum – commonly called the millimeter wave – that falls between 30 and 300GHz. As such, the average 5G smartphone user should experience speeds of around 1GBps and peak speeds of 20GBps with very little latency.

Potential Issues With 5G Technology

One potential issue with the wide release of 5G is that the millimeter waves have very short wavelengths and a high susceptibility to attenuation. With that means is that 5G transmissions can have their range and strength weakened by high humidity and rain as well as objects like buildings. To compensate for this issue, it’s necessary for low-frequency wireless stations to be installed within a 5G network to provide robust coverage.

Benefits of 5G

For consumers, the most obvious benefit of 5G is that it allows them to seamlessly stream music, games and video via smartphones and mobile hotspot devices. But the technology also has the potential to offer game-changing advances in the internet of Things sector.

For instance, at the municipal level 5G will allow for the installation of sensors and cameras that will tell government employees when a street level has gone out or a drain has started to flood. Also, the high speed and minimal lag provided of 5G has the potential to make widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles possible.

By utilizing 5G, self-driving cars will be able to communicate fast enough to avoid the collisions that make driving in densely populated urban areas somewhat difficult. Taken together, those advances could lead to the rise of highly efficient IoT powered smart cities.

Moreover, 5G can allow doctors to perform operations on patients via surgical robots without even being in the same country. And specialists within the industrial sector can use 5G to utilize heavy machinery used in construction, evacuation and shipping remotely.

But for the full potential of 5G-powered Internet of Things devices and infrastructural elements to be realized, a new generation of engineers, coders, designers, and operators who specialize in science, technology, engineering, arts and math will need to exist to make them all work. As such, it’s of crucial importance for today’s young people to educate themselves in various STEAM disciplines.

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