What is 5G?

The next-generation of wireless technology is here

Canadian carriers have successfully made the transition over to 5G networks. But what does it all mean for you? The term 5G is tossed around and can seem a bit daunting. As Canada increases its adoption of the new standard, you might be wondering how it impacts connectivity and smartphone usage.

By now, it’s likely you’ve heard of 5G in at least a tangential way. In 2022, we’re far removed from it being a buzzword used to propel emerging technology. Canadian carriers are proving that 5G can make meaningful improvements to the ways we use our smartphones. For that reason, it’s important to have a grasp on 5G and the standards now in place.

5G is the fifth-generation mobile network technology and is an umbrella term that encompasses several facets of mobile technology. As a successor of 3G and 4G, which span across the past two decades, the 5G standards don’t just build off what’s come before but are built from the ground up for a new generation.

We’re finally getting a sense of how Canadian carriers can take advantage of the networking improvements. From a high level, 5G is split into three categories: low-, mid- and high-band 5G.

When looking at low-band 5G, the radio wave spectrum generally falls below one gigahertz (GHz) or 1,000 megahertz (MHz). Low-band 5G is the most common of the 5G networks currently available in Canada. However, 3G and 4G networks also use low-band spectrum. With this in mind, current speeds are increased by upwards of 200 percent. Though, there is still room for 5G to grow, making the gap between 4G LTE and 5G greater.

However, 5G’s ceiling is much higher. Mid-band, otherwise known as Sub-6 5G, could be an exciting future for mobile connectivity. As more carriers are able to utilize the tech, Canadians will gain access to sub 6GHz (spectrum below 6,000MHz). That includes the 3,500MHz spectrum auctioned off by the Canadian government. Bell and other carriers combined paid over $8.9 billion to acquire spectrum licenses in the band. Mid-band offers higher speeds to users and better performance over low-band.

Finally, there’s high-band, otherwise known as mmWave. This relative term covers the 25-39GHz spectrum, offering exceptional speeds. mmWave is able to offer significant boosts in speeds where the range isn’t a huge factor. However, these radio waves don’t have the highest coverage. In fact, mmWaves can only travel upwards of a few hundred metres. Currently, mmWave isn’t currently available in Canada. However, if the government auctions the mmWave spectrum as it did with sub 6GHz, mmWave may be available across the country. Though phones in Canada will need to have the mmWave enabled, the iPhone 13, for example, doesn’t support mmWave 5G in Canada, though it does in the United States.

Canada’s expansion of 5G networking spans major metro cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. However, from coast to coast, more cities and rural areas are accessing this technology, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

A general way of identifying if your device is connected to the network is if it shows the 5G symbol. This is an effective notifier that your device is using 5G to obtain faster speeds, lower latency, and heightened reliability. If you find yourself travelling outside of the range for 5G, your device will simply transition back down to 4G LTE without any disturbance to your activity.

It’s worth noting that a mobile device capable of utilizing 5G is required. Contemporary devices like the iPhone 13 series, Samsung Galaxy S22 series, and Google Pixel 6/6 Pro all support the new wireless spectrum. Many devices from 2021 and previous years do not support the frequency bands needed.

If you have an eligible device set up by a supporting carrier in Canada, what can you expect? From a speed-focused perspective, 5G can theoretically support up to 1.7Gbps download speeds. However, current averages in Canada land in the realm of 169Mbps. Comparatively, 4G LTE can generally support download speeds of roughly 55Mbps. However, given that the new technology is still in its infancy, projections indicate that 5G can reach an even higher threshold when fully realized. From a user’s perspective, that means streaming video content in the highest resolution is entirely possible. Downloading larger files can also be done in seconds.

Lower latency is another notable focal point for 5G. Accessing content while on the 5G network can be done much faster. When 5G is fully deployed, it’s expected that devices can support up to three times lower latency than previous frequency bands. This not only plays a role in the consumption of web content but also in cloud gaming innovations. With projects like Xbox Cloud Gaming emerging on mobile devices, lower latency is becoming increasingly important. Reducing response time and inputs to mere milliseconds can bring major quality of life improvements to users. As further virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) innovations make their way to mobile, 5G’s latency will enable creators to develop even more immersive experiences.

Another broad cornerstone for 5G is reliability and capacity. As advanced as 4G LTE is, there were limitations when obtaining fast speeds during peak times or while in crowded event spaces. 5G aims to mitigate that. As the technology deploys further, carriers can support more users in densely populated areas without a decrease in performance. 5G technology enables a device to use multiple streams of data in order to provide reliable usage, event if at a stadium or concert venue.

5G is still a new technology. In Canada, there are limits to carrier coverage in major metropolitan cities and locales. However, the new frequency bands and standards have a bright future. We’re already seeing how the first steps of this emerging technology are improving the way we interact with our mobile devices each day.

Once 5G is able to reach its true potential, connectivity may expand beyond smartphones and into autonomous vehicles, remote-piloted drones, and even into the metaverse. Plus, by leveraging 5G networks, content consumption can become even better with higher resolution and lowered latency.

These are just a few core examples of how tech companies can use 5G to improve experiences and devices around us. That said, it will still be a few years until 5G is fully realized in Canada. Though, as developers and creatives are able to become more comfortable working within a 5G space, the more innovations we’re likely to see.

This article is part of our The Future with 5G Series. A full-length documentary on 5G airs on BBC Earth Canada and MobileSyrup on August 26th. For more 5G content, check out our new hub focused on the next-generation technology.

This story is sponsored by Bell. MobileSyrup publishes sponsored posts. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content.

Image credit: Shutterstock