How 5G Works

The Heart and Seoul of 5G
A flag showing the slogan and logo of Pyeonchang's bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics stands at the ski jump stadium in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang. The city won the bid. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

As with all evolving technologies, the details about 5G will continue to emerge in bits and pieces. You can bet that 5G will change your life in significant ways.

For one, you'll have to buy a new smartphone. Smartphones are backwards-compatible, for example, your 4G-capable phone will work on older 3G networks. They aren't forwards-compatible, though, so you'll have to buy a new phone to work with the 5G standard. These phones will be equipped with numerous tiny antennas to help you tap into the 5G frequency that's strongest in your location.

In terms of new capabilities, 5G will enable a new range of technologies. Virtual reality may become an actual reality on your smartphone. Simply connect your phone to a VR headset, and with 5G's speed boost, you may see the world around you in a whole new way.

But tech companies are looking beyond the smartphone, which came of age in the 3G era. They want to make bigger, more revolutionary systems that could alter swaths of our society. Driverless cars, which are already a reality, may greatly benefit from a 5G network. That may well translate into safer roads for everyone. Drones for product delivery and law enforcement surveillance could become more commonplace.

In the U.S., it'll be 2019 or 2020 before 5G begins its takeover. One of the first rollouts of the technology is likely to happen during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, 112 miles (180 kilometers) east of Seoul. Vendors and service providers will use the popular event to showcase their new 5G products.

At the moment, the dream of 5G is just a mirage on the horizon. But in just a couple of years, the 5G fantasy will come true – and your high-tech life will evolve in new ways you can hardly imagine.

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