Trending right now is an app you’ve most likely heard something about over the last several weeks: Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is a precedent in the world of mobile phone augmented reality, prompting users to go out and ‘hunt for Pokemon’. Gotta catch ’em all, right? Unfortunately, there is actually one catch, though: you need an internet connection to be able to play. Having tried the game out myself, I can attest to the problem of having to wait for the app to reconnect to the servers every so often.
What’s important about this is that even the current 4G standard, LTE, seems to choke on an app as simple as Pokemon Go. LTE connections can theoretically deliver up to 150 Mbps (megabits per second) of data, and are not slow by any means. However, although 4G connections have become ubiquitous in countries like Korea and Japan, the 4G penetration rate is only at around 78% in the US. This rate is much less in most other countries; in India, where I live, 3G and even 2G are more commonly used standards. With all of this in mind, it should come as a (pleasant) surprise that the FCC – the US Federation Communications Commission – has released information about a new 5G wireless standard.
The 5G standard is expected to provide 40-50 times higher data transmission speeds than 4G LTE. It will also transfer more data. Using what is called ‘millimetre radio’, or a 24 gigahertz connection, the new standards allows for higher data transfer speeds. Even Google Fiber would seem slow in comparison. To contrast current technology, WiFi today operates at either 2.4 or 5 gigahertz.
However, as we know from physics, higher frequency waves are more easily blocked by obstacles. The problem will have to be solved by routing data through a series of routers and gateways. This would allow millimetre radio signals to be sent across short line-of-sight distances. More than a technological issue, this remains an infrastructural issue. Many people believe that 5G will have to be implemented as part of the ‘internet of things’ movement. Indeed, some of the most pertinent use cases of 5G wireless will be sensors, self-driving cars, and autonomous robots.
Much to the dismay of the Pokemon fans that are out ‘hunting’ while most other people would be sleeping, 5G wireless isn’t coming anytime soon. Labs at NYU have been able to experiment with this new technology, but it may be 3-5 years before we see the development of 5G technologies. Unlike 4G technology, where mobile phones were ‘4G-ready’ years before the 4G antennas had been built, this new spectrum may not become widely used until we have new wireless infrastructure. But, as a closing remark, think about this; if with today’s “lousy” 4G connections, we can play Pokemon Go, imagine the kind of augmented reality that will exist when 5G technologies become the new standard.