They used to call the Internet, an Information superhighway. But as many of us who access the Net on our hand phones know, it can often seem like a galli, where data seemed to move at bullock cart speed. All that is set to change as mobile communication moves from 3G and 4G to 5G. Think of it as an autobahn with no speed limits, no red lights, we are told.
So what is 5G? It is the fifth speed boost in the 25 year history of mobile phone networks. The jump in data speed is likely to be 10 times better than what we experience on 4G LTE phones today -- and not much more for starters. Ignore the hype which predicts a hundred-fold speed increase.
When can we expect to experience 5G? China and South Korea have already set up 5G networks. Kuwait, Qatar, UK and US may be the next to roll out nationally, in 2020. Sorry, it doesn't look like happening in India; some of the top phones you can buy by mid 2020 will be 5G-ready, but the networks won't. That is because all Indian mobile providers are facing severe financial strain. So think 5G in 2021-22.
Will it cost us more? Almost certainly. But Indians are still likely to get 5G services cheaper than most other places -- because of the sheer size of the market.
What's the big difference? Speed --when you watch movies, play games, make online transactions, with no sudden screen freezes and data drop outs. The real difference may come when new applications, harnessing AI and a masala mix of virtual, augmented and mixed realities. Google Vice President Aparna Chennapragada recently previewed a technology called Visual Positioning System or VPS that improves on GPS. You open the camera of your phone and instantly know where you are. All the information in Google maps is overlaid on a live 3D video map of your surroundings. 5G will enable this seamless morph of camera, computer vision, navigation and maps.
From medical treatment to home appliances to street lighting, 5G can smarten many non-smart applications and control it via a mobile device. In a country like India, 5G is expected to boost intelligent transportation, smart vehicles and electric cars. In short, 5G promises a smarter, more intelligent, personalized way of mobile communication, indeed, all other communication.
Any downside? Yes, privacy will remain a big challenge as machines increasingly know more about you even as they help make life easier for you.