5th generation mobile networks

5G is the fifth generation of data networking hardware and data standards for mobile networks. The technology aims to deliver high-speed, low-latency data transmission and is viewed as an enabling technology for industries ranging from mobile devices to autonomous vehicle systems, augmented and virtual reality, edge computing, and the internet of things, among other application areas.

5G standards

5G, as a term, is used to collectively refer to a constellation of mobile networking technologies and standards.


One of the first standards for 5G technologies was proposed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2015. The ITU's requirements, known as the International Mobile Telecommunications-2020 (IMT-2020) standard, are slated to be finalized by 2020, but parts of the standard were finalized earlier. Its minimum requirements, finalized in 2017, specify:

  • Peak data rates of 20 gigabits/second downlink and 10 gigabits/second uplink
  • Peak spectral efficiency of 30 bits/second/hertz down and 15 bits/second/hertz
  • User experienced data rate (the transmission rate in dense urban environments 95% of the time) of 100 megabits/second down and 50 megabits/second up
  • User plane latency of 4 milliseconds for "enhanced mobile broadband" (eMBB) and 1 millisecond for "ultra-reliable low latency communications" (URLLC)
  • Connection density of 1 million devices per square kilometer, aimed at "massive machine type communications" (mMTC) which are the small packets of data passed between IoT devices
  • Maximum speed for handoff is 500 kilometers per hour. The ITU states that this requirement is to deliver service on high-speed trains
  • Area traffic capacity of 10 megabits per second, per square meter

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a wireless communications standards body, proposed additions to IMT-2020. 3GPP regularly issues releases to its standards.

In April 2019, the organization published Release 15, a specification for the first phase of rolling out 5G NR, an implementation of the 5G standard. In Phase 1, 5G NR and LTE share common elements, such as both using orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM).But there are differences:

via IEEE Spectrum

Release 15 also sets forth new nomenclature for device connection compatibility.

Band Levels

5G carriers offer three airwave levels known as "bands." The bands are classified as low, middle, and high. Each band offers a distinct 5G experience to consumers.

Low band

Low-band is capable of coverage in the hundreds of square miles and is described as the "blanket layer" due to its ability to also reach rural areas. It offers speeds up to 250Mpbs and is on the 600-700MHz spectrum. The spectrum was once used for analog televisions.

Middle band

Middle band runs between 2-10GHz and can offer coverage up to half of a mile. It is capable of speeds up to 2Gpbs, though it is more common for speed to range from 600 to 900Mbps.

High-band millimeter wave (mmWave)

MmWave 5G covers a one-mile or lower radius and can deliver speeds from 1 to 3Gps. This is up to 80 times higher than speeds currently offered by 4G towers, which has a max speed of 175Mbps. It is also a significant improvement over standard broadband speeds in America at 18.5Mpbs. MmWave 5G will likely be limited in deployment to dense urban areas as a result of its limited range, which can be further reduced by walls and windows.

Companies working on 5G technologies




Further reading


5G Devices Ecosystem Report with Devices Annex. March 2020


April 2, 2020

Documentaries, videos and podcasts





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