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What is 5G mmWave? Facts, Myths & FAQs…

What the heck is 5G mmWave? It is safe? It is faster? How does it work? You have questions, we have answers – here’s everything you need to know about 5G mmWave…


For the last few years, networks and carriers around the world have been switching over their respective networks to 5G. If you live in a city in the US, UK, or many parts of Europe or Asia, or even a major town, chances are you’ve had 5G running on your phone at some point. By the end of 2024, 5G will be even more widespread and a core component of 5G technology, at least in the US and China, is 5G mmWave.

Not all 5G networks will use 5G mmWave, however, so just because you have a 5G connection does not mean it is a 5G mmWave one. But if you’re in the US, China, or Japan, chances are you’ll be using 5G mmWave at some point inside the next few years, regardless of your location – huge rollouts are currently happening and by the end of 2023, there’s be millions of more 5G mmWave connections available.

What is 5G mmWave?

Because 5G technology is pretty new, many people assume that 5G and 5G mmWave are the same things, that they’re interchangeable. But this is not the case. All mobile data, including 5G and 5G mmWave, work via radio frequencies. With 5G networks, you have low band frequencies and sub-6GHz which are used to send more data at higher speeds with more bandwidth. These bands are one of the reasons why 5G is so much faster than 4G and 3G.

What is 5G mmWavePin
What’s 5G’s theoretical limit right now? 10Gbps. That is properly fast. How fast? Well, it is around 100 TIMES faster than our current 4G speeds (100Mbps). With this kind of speed, you could download an entire movie in around three seconds.

With 5G mmWave, you’re dealing with a specific part of the radio frequency spectrum – 24GHz and 100GHz. At this end of the spectrum, the wavelengths are extremely short compared to low band frequencies and the spectrum itself is essentially vacant – nothing runs on this end of the spectrum. Conversely, at the lower end, you have lots of congestion from things like 4G, TV and radio, and other communication protocols. The upshot of this, therefore, is more bandwidth which, in turn, makes for faster connections and rapid download speeds. Network congestion is the worst thing for speed and overall bandwidth.

The upshot of using these higher frequencies is that 5G mmWave is significantly faster than standard low-band 5G. The downside, thanks to its short wavelength, is that 5G mmWave cannot travel very far. Over short distances – 500m to 1KM – 5G mmWave can deliver more data at faster speeds than traditional forms of 5G. But for more open areas and wider, less populated areas, standard 5G will be the de facto connection for most.

In this respect, you can think of 5G mmWave as the perfect option for densely populated areas. If you have lots of people packed into small areas, you can deliver 5G mmWave to them pretty easily. This will ensure greater bandwidth for all users and faster speeds. Once you get out into less populated areas, things will switch over to standard low-band 5G with less bandwidth and slower speeds. As you can imagine, the applications for this tech are enormous.

For instance, if you’re in a stadium, at the mall, or located in a city center, you’ll be using 5G mmWave. This will enable carriers and networks to deliver the fastest possible 5G connection to the most people with the most bandwidth which effectively solves quite a few current issues with have with 4G. Out in rural towns, things will run on low-band 5G as these frequencies can cover much larger areas than high-band 5G mmWave.

5G mmWave Myths & Conspiracies

Whenever a new technology appears, you get plenty of excited individuals sharing rather dubious research on Facebook and Instagram. My personal favorite from the last few years was that 5G networks were being used to spread COVID. That’s right: organic, live viruses delivered by radio waves. This is why some 5G towers in the UK were burnt down. Or, why your Facebook feed – at one point – might have been full of 5G conspiracy theories.

5G Is Harmful To Humans

Other people claimed 5G would give us cancer, a similar claim was made about mobile phones in the 1980s, 1990s, and the 2000s but, once again, neither of these assertions held much water. In a bid to quell worries amongst the easily misled, The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) issued a statement confirming that 5G bands – including 5G mmWave – were safe for consumers.

When we revised the guidelines, we looked at the adequacy of the ones we published in 1998. We found that the previous ones were conservative in most cases, and they’d still provide adequate protection for current technologies. However, the new guidelines provide better and more detailed exposure guidance in particular for the higher frequency range, above 6GHz, which is of importance to 5G and future technologies using these higher frequencies.

ICNIRP Chairman Dr. Eric van Rongen

Was this enough to satisfy people? Of course not. But then again, some people believe the earth is flat. At this stage, the best you can do is either create your own magical reality where the earth is flat and 5G is used to distribute diseases like COVID, or trust that institutions like the ICNIRP aren’t working in league with the Illuminati and do actually care about your well being, and that the science they have been doing for more than three decades ensures that no telecommunications company can do anything that is found to be harmful to human life. As always, the choice is yours alone.

Gigabit LTE is Faster Than 5G

Another thing people that think they’re in the know like to talk about is gigabit LTE. The claim goes that since gigabit LTE can, theoretically, match 5G’s speeds, 5G technology like mmWave is largely pointless. In theory, some of these statements are true: gigabit LTE can hit gigabit and higher speeds, which is impressive, but it needs very exacting situations to do this – meaning a lab.

In the real world, gigabit LTE is contained by the same problems facing standard LTE – bandwidth and congestion on its allotted frequencies. For this reason, many areas that have deployed gigabit LTE aren’t – or will never – get its true, potential speed. The network it runs on is just too congested and this has a massive effect on its bandwidth which, in turn, reduces its speed and efficiency.

Meanwhile, 5G – both standard 5G and the mmWave kind – run on much higher or much lower frequencies, and are thus not subject to the same congestion and bandwidth issues that affect LTE and gigabit LTE. In a like for like situation, a 5G connection is ALWAYS going to be better than a gigabit LTE and/or standard 4G LTE connection simply because it has more bandwidth and improved latency, and, if you want truly blazingly fast speeds, you need lots and lots of bandwidth and low latency.

And with respect to latency, here’s why lower latency connections are better via the ThalesGroup:

From 200 milliseconds for 4G, we go down to 1 millisecond(1ms) with 5G. Just think about it. A millisecond is 1/1000 of a second. The average reaction time for humans to a visual stimulus is 250 ms or 1/4 of a second. People are capped at around 190-200 ms with proper training. Imagine now that your car could react 250 times faster than you.

The Maximum, Theoretical Speed of 5G

But what makes 5G so intriguing and such a hot topic with tech companies and carriers is that its latent potential, or its upper speeds, are truly astonishing and, once realized, have the potential to, once again, reinvent what we think of as “quick internet”. What’s 5G’s theoretical limit right now? 10Gbps. That is properly fast. How fast? Well, it is around 100 TIMES faster than our current 4G speeds (100Mbps). With this kind of speed, you could download an entire movie in around three seconds.

The implications for this kind of speed are huge, having implications – largely positive – for businesses and consumers alike. The end goal of 5G, therefore, can be thought of as completely unlimited, ultra-fast internet being available everywhere at all times. It will power smart roads, driverless cars, and the metaverse. That’s the goal, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And while it will take some time to get there, progress is now well underway.

Indeed, lab speeds of 1TB per second have now been achieved and if that sounds insane, well… that’s because it is. If you had a 1TB per second internet connection on your phone, it’d be 65,000 TIMES faster than current 4G speeds. With a connection like this, you could download over 100 movies in less than three seconds. Again, this was done in a lab setting, it wasn’t a real-world test, so don’t go getting your hopes up for 1TB per second of wireless data anytime soon. Having said that, Ofcom believes we could one day see wireless data speeds on phones in and around 50Gbps.

How Long Before 10Gbps 5G is Available?

Like anything related to technology, 5G is reliant on specifications – both inside your phone and your network/carrier’s towers and infrastructure. In order to deliver speeds upwards of 10Gbps, all the pieces need to be in place: phones need the right modems, networks need the right gear, and the infrastructure has to be in place. All of these things, as you’d expect, take time. But they are happening.

Case in point, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X70 5G modem can handle speeds of up to 10Gbps. The X70 is the first modem of its kind to support all 5G bands ranging from 500MHz to 41GHz, so your phone – if you have one that runs the X70 modem – is now fully capable of running 5G and/or mmWave 5G at 10Gbps. The only snag now appears to reside with carriers and networks – they need to get their acts together to deliver the promised speeds of 10Gbps.

How long until this happens? It could be a good few years before 10Gbps speeds on 5G networks are unlocked. But given the speed of deployment and development by carriers and firms like Qualcomm, I’d expect we’ll be well on our way to 10Gbps 5G by 2024/25. I could be completely wrong, of course, but given the speed of 5G’s global rollout and the investment that is going into it, I think that is a fairly good, if not a little conservative estimation of how long it will take to unlock the first upper limit of 5G’s nascent potential.

Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin is a leading UK technology journalist with a focus on consumer tech trends and data security. Renowned for his insightful analysis, Richard has contributed to Sky News, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 2, and CNBC, making complex tech issues accessible to a broad audience.

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[ss_click_to_tweet tweet="From 1G in the 1980s to INSANELY fast 5G in 2019, mobile data has changed massively over the past few decades. Here, we take an in-depth look at how mobile data has evolved since the dawn of the smartphone... " content="From 1G in the 1980s to INSANELY fast 5G in 2019, mobile data has changed massively over the past few decades. Here, we take an in-depth look at how mobile data has evolved since the dawn of the smartphone... " style="default"] What Is Mobile Data? The Basics (In Layman’s Terms) Mobile data lets you connect to the internet when you’re away from your home WiFi network. Mobile networks are powered by cell towers; these towers are dotted around the country and are collectively known as a “cell” – they power your phone, both for calls and internet connectivity. These cell towers – often referred to as base stations – are IP-based (Internet Protocol) networks, meaning they use standard communication protocols to send and receive data in packets. The cell tower is a conduit, essentially, and your phone is the source.   In its simplest form, these base stations are radio systems. They “broadcast” data – both voice and data on 4G LTE – to handsets inside their vicinity. This is why it is important for networks to have towers all over the country, as individual towers only have a certain range. For instance, say you start your day in New York. When you leave your apartment, you’ll connect to a local base station. You then get in your car and drive to Chicago. During your drive across state lines, you’ll move through several or more base station zones, potentially, swapping from one to the next so as to ensure your phone is constantly connected to the web. And that’s it, basically. I mean, you can get super-complicated if you like – there are plenty of engineering sites that go into way more depth. But for a layman’s overview of how mobile data works, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell! Mobile Data is Now More Important Than Call Functionality… Mobile data is important too. You need it to use your phone when you're in a city, on the road, or traveling. In fact, there is 33 times more demand for mobile data than there is for calls, meaning people surf the web more than they talk these days. And that figure is constantly increasing. This is why we now have 4G and 5G networks; older 2G and 3G networks were crumbling under the demands placed on them by millions of people attempting to access the internet at the same time. This is why HSPA and HSPA+ happened. And then 4G LTE. It’s a constant evolution to tackle the ever-increasing demand for mobile data. Networks and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are constantly updating their infrastructure to make it more efficient and faster. This costs millions of dollars and is a never-ending process, as the goalposts keep moving – like with the advent of 5G. Most phones now run on LTE (4G), but from about 2022, 5G will take over, bringing with it huge uplifts to download speeds. Different Types of Mobile Data – 1G to 5G To understand how we get got to where we are, you have to understand how the industry, as well as consumer habits, have changed over the years. Back in the early-2000s, demand for mobile data was small. By 2010, it was enormous, following the release of the first true smartphones – Apple’s iPhone and Google’s first run on Android phones. Prior to this, we had WAP internet – an incredibly slow form of mobile data that anyone over the age of 30 will remember. Fancy new phones like the iPhone and Google’s first run of Android-powered devices caused a change in the way we use mobile devices. For the first time, data became more important that call and texts, a first since the dawn of mobile comms in the 1970s. The Evolution of Mobile Data (1G to 5G) 1G & 2G – 1G isn’t actually the correct term to use here; it was never known as that. But it works for our needs in this post. Launched in the 1980s, 1G allowed for calls to be made over networks. It was simple, but so were phones, so it was THE standard up until 2003, when 2G happened, bringing with it GSM, GPRS and EDGE – a means of sending data and calls over the same network. Speeds were appalling, however (30-110 kbps) 3G – 3G was the first BIG evolution of mobile networks, as it allowed for faster data delivery (2mbps) with support for calls, texts, email, and the internet inside a single packet. 3G was a direct response to the rise of smartphones and represents the first time we actually got a fit-for-purpose mobile internet. Without 3G, none of the things you do today on your phone would be possible. 4G – Building on from 3G, 4G introduced even faster mobile data speeds – up to 100mbps. Based on standards outline by the International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced (IMT-Advanced), 4G was complex to integrate into existing networks. This is why it took a while to get going. LTE came shortly after and was designed to simplify network architecture for the express purpose of rolling out faster and faster internet speeds. 5G – LTE (Long Term Evolution) eventually gave birth to 5G, bringing us up to the present day. 5G is here now, but it isn’t true 5G. True 5G will deliver speeds of 10gbps! The current standard is around 1Gbps, so we have quite a ways to go before we’re topping out at the sharp-end of 5G’s evolution. The framework, however, is in place. By 2025, most users in the western world will likely be experiencing mobile data speeds in and around 10gbps. Why We Use Mobile Data Remember that fact from earlier? The one that said demand for mobile data is 33 TIMES greater than demands for calls? That’s why we need mobile data. On top of this, 60% of Google searches are now done on phones (and a large percentage of that will be on mobile data). Mobile data is the backbone of our modern society. Without it, things would crumble to a standstill. Think about it: how many times a day do you check your phone? Do you ever wonder if it will have reception? Do you worry that you won’t be able to access the Internet? No. Unless you live in a rural area, your phone – wherever you go – will be connected to the web. This is why data demands are so high in our modern society – there are no limits on connectivity any more. And this is addictive. Technology companies know this too. That’s why you’re addicted to browsing Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. You’re not doing it for anything important, you just do it because you can and you’re bored. What did people do before? They read a book/newspaper or thought about stuff. Nowadays, people that do that are the minority. Look around you next time you’re on a train or the underground; everyone is connected, plugged in, consuming. And they’re all doing it on mobile data. This is why companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are worth billions: mobile data opened the flood gates to more revenue, more opportunities, and near constant, round-the-clock engagement. Video is the big one though. The amount of data used to watch a YouTube video, by 2009 standards, is insane. Back in 2009, watching Netflix or your favorite YouTuber on mobile data would have been next to impossible. But now you can, more or less anywhere. This is great. But it means more demand for data – and more demand means more strain on networks. And that is why the next phase of LTE (5G) happened. Are You A Light, Medium, or Heavy Phone User? How you use your phone is specific to you, like your fingerprint. However, there are things that we all do – we all connect to the internet using mobile data most days; we all use smartphones; we all have a near-constant desire for new, engaging information; and, finally, we all love our phones and cannot be without them for prolonged periods of time (even if some won’t admit it). Me personally? I’m a pretty heavy user. I’m usually on Reddit or reading posts from my RSS reader app. I made a conscious decision to remove Facebook and Instagram from my phone a couple of years ago because I despise what these platforms have become (spoiler: they’re just data collection tools for marketers). And I don’t use Twitter. But I am still what I would consider a heavy user. Generally speaking, though, I am very much in the minority here. Most people LOVE social media. According to data from HootSuite and We Are Social, there were over 3.4 BILLION active social media users in 2019 – up 9% from 2018. In addition, 52% of the earth’s population now use smartphones as well, thanks to huge growth in developing countries like India and Africa. From 2014, upwards of 1.9 billion people have started using mobile data. Apps That Use The Most Data OK, so we now know how mobile data works. But do you know what applications on your phone use the most data? If you’re on a limited data plan, it pays to know exactly which apps are using the most data. Right now, these types of application use the highest amount of mobile data: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat – social networks are now 100% focussed on video. Why? Simple: video is more engaging. However, video costs more (in terms of data), so constantly checking your social media accounts while connected to mobile data is likely the #1 reason you keep going over your monthly data limits. YouTube, Netflix, Hulu – streaming video is INSANELY bad for your data allowances. The sheer amount of data required to stream a 30-minute TV show in 1080p is enough to wipe out 10% of your monthly data allowance. Unless you have unlimited data, you’ll want to avoid streaming video on mobile data. Spotify/Apple Music/Tidal – streaming music isn’t as data-intensive as streaming video content, but it still takes its toll. If you’re on a low data plan, your best bet is saving music offline for when you’re out an about. If you’re on higher data plans, 10GB and above, you can almost certainly get away with streaming as much as you want. Ditto for those on Unlimited Data Plans. Should You Go For An Unlimited Data Plan? Given everything we’ve discussed, you’re probably thinking unlimited data is the answer to all your problems, right? In most instances, it is – unlimited data gives you the freedom to pretty do whatever you want on a mobile data connection. For instance, I used mine for an entire week to power my home computer when my home broadband was on the fritz. How much did I use? Around 126GB! I’ve always had unlimited data. The reason? I use my phone ALL the time, and I don’t like limits. I also don’t mind paying for unlimited data either, as it is super-useful to have – especially if you travel a lot. Most people, however, will be fine on plans with 10GB of data. That’s a lot of data, even for heavy users, so don’t get too upset if your current network doesn’t offer unlimited data – just go with the highest possible allowance you can. What Networks/Carriers Do Unlimited Data Plans? In the UK and US, you have quite a few options when it comes to unlimited data plans. I’ve outlined the best networks and carriers for unlimited data below in the table: Best Unlimited Data Carriers & Networks [ninja_tables id="95309"]
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