Tech Savvy: 5G promises faster speeds

Cellphones are commonplace these days. That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t room for improvement, such as 5G technology. But what is 5G exactly?

Person holds cellphone
Smartphones are commonplace today.
Courtesy / Pixabay

It seems everyone has a cellphone today and everyone would like faster internet speeds.

Smartphone users got their wish in their need for speed — or at least some of them did — when AT&T and Verizon changed to a new swath of wireless spectrum Wednesday, Jan. 19, that promises to make 5G service available to more people in more parts of the nation.

The switch from 4G for some has been anything but smooth, however, with major international airlines canceling flights into the country due to concerns about 5G deployments.

If 5G promises to be the proverbial greatest thing since sliced bread for anyone with a cellphone — and let’s face it, that’s almost all of us — what’s the controversy, why the holdup?

The three major cell carriers have rolled out 5G service on their networks, but T-Mobile's customers have enjoyed the fastest speeds in most areas, according to Ookla, a recognized leader in fixed broadband and mobile network testing applications, data and analysis.


So what is 5G? It's the next generation of cellular technology — the fifth generation — and it promises to significantly increase the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks — at least that was the promise back in 2019, according to wireless company Qualcomm.

And as we spend more of our lives in the digital realm — whether it’s watching cat videos, playing the web’s new favorite word game Wordle, sharing photos snapped on your mobile phone that were applied with a photo filter making you look like a dog — 5G matters.

Just how fast is 5G? Between 10 to 100 times speedier than your typical cellular connection, and even faster than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house, according to CNET, a media website focused on technology and consumer electronics.

Cell phone tower
A cellphone tower stands against the blue backdrop of the sky.

For example, AT&T switched on its new 5G network in "limited parts" of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. “Users in those cities, with a compatible device and an unlimited plan, should see 5G speeds that are up to three times faster than what they were getting on AT&T's 4G LTE,” according to a CNET article.

The chief executives of U.S. airlines and cargo carriers on Monday, however, were perhaps the only ones who were not ecstatic about the 5G rollout, as expressed by their letter to Biden administration officials on Monday.

“They warned that disruptions to airplanes' instruments from 5G signals on the C-band airwaves could ground ‘huge swaths’ of the U.S. fleet, subjecting more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers in a single day to cancellations, diversions or delays,” according to

An AT&T statement read: "We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner.”

Timeliness is another benefit of 5G. The time between when you press play on a YouTube video, for example, and when the network receives your request and responds by playing the video will be as little as 1 millisecond compared to 20 milliseconds with current networks.


But not even the 5G rollout by major cell carriers was immune to the coronavirus pandemic, even as more of us stayed closer to home, working remotely or streaming more entertainment. Supply chain disruptions of materials stymied the production of 5G-compatible smartphones.

“The next-generation cellular technology, which boasts anywhere from 10 to 100 times the speed of 4G and rapid-fire responsiveness, could improve everything from simple video conferencing to telemedicine and advanced augmented and virtual reality,” according to CNET.

To meet the expected demand for 5G-compatible devices, major smartphone manufacturers like Apple released products like the iPhone 12, which was released in October 2020 and is designed to take advantage of 5G whereas previous models, such as the iPhone 11, cannot.

So while the new 5G network promises to be fast, the rollout of compatible smartphone devices, the pace of coverage that has been made available to Americans across the country and recent FAA concerns about 5G disruptions have, for some, put the brakes on the excitement over 5G.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at Follow him on Twitter at

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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