How 5G Works

5G, The O.G. Generation
Paolo Colella, Head of Region India, Ericsson, hosts the Taste of Barcelona India Roadshow 2017 in Gurgaon, India. 5G might enable driverless cars and delivery drones. Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

As it stands, about every decade or so, communications companies unveil new wireless standards and then deploy the infrastructure to make it a reality. In 1982, the first so-called 1G networks came to fruition, for analog cell phones. 1992 saw the introduction of 2G for digital cell phones, and then 3G went live in 2003. Advanced 4G networks became a reality in 2012 [source: Segan].

Individual companies don't determine communications standards. In the case of 5G, it's a group called Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN), an association that brings together the minds of research engineers, hardware manufacturers, mobile service providers and other entities looking to develop this next generation system.

Although the standard isn't fully developed yet, 5G is likely to improve on 4G in a number of ways. It should be able to send and receive far more data than 4G, and it will be able to support greater numbers of users without getting bogged down. If you've ever been to a large concert or ball game where your data speeds get exasperatingly slow, you know exactly what we're talking about.

It should also use less power than 4G, so your battery life should improve. That means you'll spend less time scrambling to find a phone charger every day.

And it should integrate seamlessly with the Internet of Things, the multitude of wireless devices and systems that's rapidly expanding thanks to smart, cheap sensors and, of course, nearly ubiquitous wireless networks. That includes everything from autonomous cars, to drones, to smart door.

Those are just the biggies. There are a lot of other potential improvements that 5G might bring to the wireless table.