5G Technology Isn't Quite Here Yet


The next wave of wireless technology might take a while.

The truth is, it’s a boring time for smartphones. Most of the huge camera and qualitative improvements of the early years have leveled off. iOS and Android are basically equal ecosystems. Mobile networks are now fast enough to do most of the stuff you want to do most of the time. The top three carriers—AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile—all offer very similar levels of service. Verizon has consistently been slightly better, according to the most rigorous testing, but it’s pretty close for most people. The most popular apps (YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) have been around for years.

Not that phones aren’t amazing technological products and the networks that serve them incredible systems, but the devices are what they are now: beautiful glass rectangles with a thick, invisible tether to the cloud.

The true technological leap over the next few years is supposed to come from the network technology, the vaunted 5G. 5G is the wireless industry’s designation of a packet of new systems that promise to make the internet on your phone work like a wired fiber-optic connection. Instead of bandwidth that reaches 10 or 20 megabytes a second, you might get 200 or even 500 megabytes, enough to stream 4K video.

Alexis Madrigal is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.

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