5G Deep Dive

5G is not going to measure up to the hype and will not answer our lack of competition, innovation, high-speed, reliable, and cost-effective broadband options…


This post is a “deep drive” into what has come before, the technology and science, and the application of 5G (in the US). A need was seen after talking with numerous elected officials to provide more comprehensive information on what 5G is and is not for McHenry County, Illinois and other communities.

The materials cities and reproduced the education and non-profit status exempted under the copyright act. No claims are made to the copyright of the source’s material.

Just because we are using their material does not mean it is an endorsement of their ideas, stances, views, or politics. We have taken efforts to provide credit to the numerous hardworking and knowledgeable individuals and organization through out the country and world.  Thank respective sources for making this possible. IFMC reserves rights in its work, such as they are.


5G is the next generation, fifth generation, in cellular network technology. 5G follows 4G, 3G, 2G and 1G and their respective associated technologies.

5G is an early technology, still in the planning and testing stages, but is a compilation of many different technologies. Companies and industry groups are working together to figure out exactly what it will be.

5G is distinct from earlier technologies, that 5G is going to offer additional frequencies (bandwidth) and more advanced technologies. Such frequencies in the <6 GHz range and >24 GHz range are going to be offered, which is going to provide much more bandwidth throughput, but with shorter ranges and additional interference issues.  5G is going to include such technologies like Millimeter Waves, Small Cells, Massive MIMO, Beamforming, and Full Duplex.

5G spectrum is going to consist of three different types of bands, Low-bands of below 1 GHz, Mid-bands between 1 GHz and 6 GHz, and High-bands of higher than 24 GHz. In essence, longer (low frequency) wavelengths travel longer distances and go through things like buildings, trees, and water more effectively, but support slower data speeds. High frequency wavelengths travel shorter distances, but do not go through buildings, trees, and water effectively, but the data speeds can be much faster.

5G is not a finalized standard yet and will not be until late 2020, even if it does finalize, there is a chance it’ll splinter into different standards as 4G has.

5G has already turned out to not be 5G, like in the case with AT&T’s 5GE. Most of what you see being advertised is hype and should be viewed with skepticism going forward. While some cellular companies are saying they have 5G, those claims, are arguably, inaccurate. This emerging technology is still being developed and implementation is still years away.

One of the biggest challenges for the cellular providers is the ability to offer the full capability of 5G everywhere. 5G requires fiber and millions of miles will have to be built along to connect the respective 5G antennas and towers. The respective business case for laying, what is essentially, fiber to the curb, is not very profitable and will unlikely occur without some significant strategy changes in our communities across America.

5G is not going to measure up to the hype and will not answer our lack of competition, innovation, high-speed, reliable, and cost-effective broadband options due to a number of limitations ranging from lack of fiber-optics everywhere, interference and distance issues, profitability, spectrum ownership, and more. Alternatively 5G will, very likely, be a continuation of the current status-quo. Without implementing forward-thinking strategy and infrastructure that is focused on the needs of the community, arguably, nothing is going to change.

5G will be a very useful evolution in wireless in that it will provide faster, lower latency networks that are more easily managed (in large part due to virtualization technology). But 5G is not some mystical fucking panacea.

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Where to begin

These videos are very helpful to distill very complex topics to very simplistic ways, but are not necessary to understand 5G and the conclusion.

Introduction to 5G

The video below titled “Everything You Need To Know About 5G” is a good introduction to 5G and the five major technologies needed for 5G, but despite the title, it is not everything you need to know. If you read on, we’ve provided a more in-depth understanding of 5G.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEx_d0SjvS0Good introduction video about 5G

History: 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G Technologies

It is important to understand where we have been and where we are today as it relates to cellular technology.

In general, each generation can be surmised as the following:

1G brought us voice service.

2G brought us digital phones and text messaging.

3G brought us basic data.

4G brought us higher speed data and more.

Spectrum Usage for 3G/4G/5G

The graphic below describes the different frequencies that are being used for 3G, 4G, and 5G. This is meant to provide you with some general idea of the frequencies used, the practical (real-life) bandwidth offering, the coverage per antenna, and where it’ll be used.

Please pay in particular attention to the 5G Fixed Wireless Coverage per Antenna & Usage column.

For reference: 250 Meters = 820.21 Feet1 Kilometer = 0.62 Miles50 Kilometers = 31.06 Miles150 Kilometers = 93.21 Miles

Real life 4G LTE performance

4G LTE does have a theoretical maximum of 100 Mbps per second download and a 50 Mbps per second upload, as of January 2019, most do not get more than 25 Mbps. Considering the real-life data, we can expect 5G to under deliver, as 4G has.

It is going to take many years for 5G to be implemented fully. For example, with 4G, we did not see the first fully-compliant 4G cell sites until late 2017; 4G specifications were agreed upon in 2009. Cellular companies upgraded their networks incrementally over time, but it took many years. We can expect a similar path for 5G. 

4G – Multiple Standards

Previously, it was mentioned that 4G LTE promised a theoretical maximum of 100 Mbps per second download and a 50 Mbps per second upload, but is LTE the only 4G standard being offered in the 4G space? No, there are a number of standards and revisions.

StandardHSPA+WiMAX Rel 1LTELTE-AdvancedWiMax Rel 2“True 4G”
Download84 Mbps128 Mbps100 Mbps1000 Mbps1000 Mbps1000 Mbps
Upload22 Mbps56 Mbps50 Mbps500 Mbps500 Mbps500 Mbps

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For example, there is HSPA+, WiMAX Rel 1, LTE, LTE-Advanced, WiMax Rel 2, and “True 4G”. Each standard has different properties for download and upload.

These different standards all add to the confusion of truly understanding of what 4G really is. How do you know which network is the best? You honestly do not know, and it is difficult to verify. It is the very reason why AT&T can say they have the best network while Verizon says the same thing. At the end of the day, a case by case with each carrier has to be made to determine the best cellular technology and network for your needs.

Likewise, how will you know which 5G network has implemented millimeter waves, small cells, massive MIMO beamforming, full duplex or the 8 other technologies for 5G? You will not know for sure. Finding such information is going to be difficult for the average person, in some cases, even difficult for experts.

Most of what you see being advertised for 5G is hype and should be viewed with skepticism, as it might not actually be 5G, like in the case with AT&T’s 5GE.

Five Major Technologies of 5G

In the video above, they describe the main five new technologies that will need to be deployed to make the most of 5G. If you have not watched the video, please do.

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Millimeter Waves

Small Cells

Massive MIMO


Full Duplex

Millimeter Waves

Today’s wireless networks have run into a problem: More people and devices are consuming more data than ever before, but it remains crammed on the same bands of the radio-frequency spectrum that mobile providers have always used. That means less bandwidth for everyone, causing slower service and more dropped connections.

One way to get around that problem is to simply transmit signals on a whole new swath of the spectrum, one that’s never been used for mobile service before. That’s why providers are experimenting with broadcasting on millimeter waves, which use higher frequencies than the radio waves that have long been used for mobile phones.

Millimeter waves are broadcast at frequencies between 30 and 300 gigahertz, compared to the bands below 6 GHz that were used for mobile devices in the past. They are called millimeter waves because they vary in length from 1 to 10 mm, compared to the radio waves that serve today’s smartphones, which measure tens of centimeters in length.

Until now, only operators of satellites and radar systems used millimeter waves for real-world applications. Now, some cellular providers have begun to use them to send data between stationary points, such as two base stations. But using millimeter waves to connect mobile users with a nearby base station is an entirely new approach.

There is one major drawback to millimeter waves, though—they can’t easily travel through buildings or obstacles and they can be absorbed by foliage and rain. That’s why 5G networks will likely augment traditional cellular towers with another new technology, called small cells.

Small Cells

Small cells are portable miniature base stations that require minimal power to operate and can be placed every 250 meters or so throughout cities. To prevent signals from being dropped, carriers could install thousands of these stations in a city to form a dense network that acts like a relay team, receiving signals from other base stations and sending data to users at any location.

While traditional cell networks have also come to rely on an increasing number of base stations, achieving 5G performance will require an even greater infrastructure. Luckily, antennas on small cells can be much smaller than traditional antennas if they are transmitting tiny millimeter waves. This size difference makes it even easier to stick cells on light poles and atop buildings.

This radically different network structure should provide more targeted and efficient use of spectrum. Having more stations means the frequencies that one station uses to connect with devices in one area can be reused by another station in a different area to serve another customer. There is a problem, though—the sheer number of small cells required to build a 5G network may make it hard to set up in rural areas.

In addition to broadcasting over millimeter waves, 5G base stations will also have many more antennas than the base stations of today’s cellular networks—to take advantage of another new technology: massive MIMO.

Video to learn more about Small Cells.

Massive MIMO

Today’s 4G base stations have a dozen ports for antennas that handle all cellular traffic: eight for transmitters and four for receivers. But 5G base stations can support about a hundred ports, which means many more antennas can fit on a single array. That capability means a base station could send and receive signals from many more users at once, increasing the capacity of mobile networks by a factor of 22 or greater.

This technology is called massive MIMO. It all starts with MIMO, which stands for multiple-input multiple-output. MIMO describes wireless systems that use two or more transmitters and receivers to send and receive more data at once. Massive MIMO takes this concept to a new level by featuring dozens of antennas on a single array.

MIMO is already found on some 4G base stations. But so far, massive MIMO has only been tested in labs and a few field trials. In early tests, it has set new records for spectrum efficiency, which is a measure of how many bits of data can be transmitted to a certain number of users per second.

Massive MIMO looks very promising for the future of 5G. However, installing so many more antennas to handle cellular traffic also causes more interference if those signals cross. That’s why 5G stations must incorporate beamforming.


Beamforming is a traffic-signaling system for cellular base stations that identifies the most efficient data-delivery route to a particular user, and it reduces interference for nearby users in the process. Depending on the situation and the technology, there are several ways for 5G networks to implement it.

Beamforming can help massive MIMO arrays make more efficient use of the spectrum around them. The primary challenge for massive MIMO is to reduce interference while transmitting more information from many more antennas at once. At massive MIMO base stations, signal-processing algorithms plot the best transmission route through the air to each user. Then they can send individual data packets in many different directions, bouncing them off buildings and other objects in a precisely coordinated pattern. By choreographing the packets’ movements and arrival time, beamforming allows many users and antennas on a massive MIMO array to exchange much more information at once.

For millimeter waves, beamforming is primarily used to address a different set of problems: Cellular signals are easily blocked by objects and tend to weaken over long distances. In this case, beamforming can help by focusing a signal in a concentrated beam that points only in the direction of a user, rather than broadcasting in many directions at once. This approach can strengthen the signal’s chances of arriving intact and reduce interference for everyone else.

Besides boosting data rates by broadcasting over millimeter waves and beefing up spectrum efficiency with massive MIMO, wireless engineers are also trying to achieve the high throughput and low latency required for 5G through a technology called full duplex, which modifies the way antennas deliver and receive data.

Full Duplex

Today’s base stations and cellphones rely on transceivers that must take turns if transmitting and receiving information over the same frequency, or operate on different frequencies if a user wishes to transmit and receive information at the same time.

With 5G, a transceiver will be able to transmit and receive data at the same time, on the same frequency. This technology is known as full duplex, and it could double the capacity of wireless networks at their most fundamental physical layer: Picture two people talking at the same time but still able to understand one another—which means their conversation could take half as long and their next discussion could start sooner.

Some militaries already use full duplex technology that relies on bulky equipment. To achieve full duplex in personal devices, researchers must design a circuit that can route incoming and outgoing signals so they don’t collide while an antenna is transmitting and receiving data at the same time.

This is especially hard because of the tendency of radio waves to travel both forward and backward on the same frequency—a principle known as reciprocity. But recently, experts have assembled silicon transistors that act like high-speed switches to halt the backward roll of these waves, enabling them to transmit and receive signals on the same frequency at once.  

One drawback to full duplex is that it also creates more signal interference, through a pesky echo. When a transmitter emits a signal, that signal is much closer to the device’s antenna and therefore more powerful than any signal it receives. Expecting an antenna to both speak and listen at the same time is possible only with special echo-canceling technology.

With these and other 5G technologies, engineers hope to build the wireless network that future smartphone users, VR gamers, and autonomous cars will rely on every day. Already, researchers and companies have set high expectations for 5G by promising ultralow latency and record-breaking data speeds for consumers. If they can solve the remaining challenges, and figure out how to make all these systems work together, ultrafast 5G service could reach consumers in the next five years.

While these are the big five pieces of technology that will need to be developed, however there are eight other pieces of technology that will need to be implemented to be fully compliant with whatever 5G specification that is approved. To put this in perspective, we did not see the first fully-compliant 4G cell sites until late 2017; 4G specifications were agreed upon in 2009. The build out for 5G is going to be considerably longer for all benefits to be realized.

Spectrum of 5G

Understanding the spectrum of 5G is important because it is the basic foundation for which how your data gets to and from your phone to the Internet. Spectrum, in this case, radio waves, is how they transfer your data from your phone to the Internet, however each band of frequency has characteristics that make it great for some applications and not great for others.

Here’s how the different spectrum bands will be used to propel 5G. They are divided up into three different parts, Low-band, Mid-band, and High-band.

  • Low-bands below 1 GHz: Longer range bands can be used for wider area coverage for enhanced mobile broadband and for the billions of low-power Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that will comprise massive IoT.
  • Mid-bands between 1 GHz and 6 GHz: Wider bandwidths in this range can also enhance mobile broadband and carry heavier data loads and mission-critical transmissions from smart cities, factories, and medical devices.
  • High-bands above 24 GHz (mmWave): Extreme bandwidths in this range will achieve multi-Gbps data rates, transforming the mobile broadband experience. They can’t travel far, but they’ll vastly improve mobile broadband in high-density areas.

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Graphically, the spectrum looks like this.

Source Credit: Sprint An even easier way to visualize the spectrum based on the level of energy. More energy means more bandwidth, however with higher energy comes much shorter range.

Low, Mid, High Band 5G Frequency Spectrum

What is the difference between high and low frequencies of 5G?

Source Credit: Sprint

Longer (low frequency) wavelengths travel longer distances and go through things like buildings, trees, and water more effectively– but support slower data speeds.

Shorter (high frequency) wavelengths travel shorter distances, but do not go through buildings, trees, and water effectively – but the data speeds can be much faster.

Here are some examples:Naval submarine comms – 30Hz – low, slow and looooong distances. Wi-Fi – 2.4-5.8GHz – fast, but over relatively shorter distancesmmWave– 24-100 GHz – extremely high speed, but limited distance

Not only is the range shorter for the high-band frequency, it is also susceptible to interference from the air, water, humans, buildings, mountains, and trees. Even a light rain storm in mmWave range can make it more difficult to have reliable connectivity or higher speeds; some Satellite users experience this today.

To work around this limitation, these mmWaves will have to be deployed with small cell technology (see the video) and with fiber-optic back haul (connection) to the Internet to provide the sufficient bandwidth at these frequencies. This means, that every 1000 feet you are going to need a fiber-optic connection to support the small cell and the customers that are on that particular small cell. To actually obtain indoor service with this, you are going to need a small antenna to, essentially, repeat the signal to indoors because mmWaves will not penetrate the walls of the building. The typical density of a suburban neighborhood is unlikely to be profitable with the need to build fiber into the neighborhoods, thus we will not see mmWave expand beyond dense areas in major cities like Chicago.

In all, the use case of this spectrum will look like this

Expected 5G Frequency Band Usage.

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Spectrum Ownership and Competition of 5G

Many are speculating that 5G will be a sufficient replacement for fiber-optics and cable Internet. In many cases, it can be a possible substitute for cable/fiber-optics for a certain people in certain areas, even if it is accessible, we think 5G will not be as cost-effective as fiber-optics and cable due to number of issues. The reasons are as follows:

  1. No Competition: Auctioned spectrum is owned by the main four US cellular companies, like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The barrier to entry in this market is high, thus enabling a natural monopoly to occur. See below for details on ownership. Source Credit:
Chart from Cowen and Company showing the “standard” spectrum holdings of some of the nation’s biggest spectrum holders.

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Analysts at Wall Street research firm Oppenheimer offer a relatively cohesive look at some of the most popular millimeter wave bands and who owns them (if the FCC owns the spectrum, then it can be auctioned).

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Allnet shows the aggregate millimeter wave ownership across all bands.

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  • Not limitless: 5G or any wireless for that matter is not physically or even logically unlimited. The more users that use bandwidth, the less there is to go around; this problem does not exist on fiber-optics. There is only so much bandwidth (spectrum) to go around and it is shared with every customer, which is why sometimes you can get the full 25 Mbps on the 4G network and other times it is in the 1-5 Mbps range. A true unlimited wireless plan doesn’t exist and unlikely to ever exist with 5G due to the limited universal nature of spectrum, which is you can only pack in so much bandwidth . With either 4G or 5G, you may have full bars of signal, but full bars does not mean you’ll have full bandwidth because you have to share it with other users on that antenna.
  • Data is expensive: Even today, people in the United States have the fifth most expensive price per gigabyte smartphone plans among developed nations. Due to lack of competition and the limiting nature of spectrum, “unlimited” 5G is bound to be expensive as 4G is. If it were to exist, this means household unlimited 5G is going to be out of reach for most households due to price alone.
  • Spectrum is the essential ingredient for 5G to occur. Almost all the usable spectrum is owned by the four cellular companies in America. 5G is not going to bring you competition that we desperately need, even if it does come, it is going to be expensive. Even if enough spectrum were provided to the companies, the demand for bandwidth is going to outstrip the capabilities and capacity of cellular technology.

    Real Life 5G Performance

    5G is complementary to fiber-optics. It is not a substitute for fiber-optics.

    Many are excited about the prospect of having more bandwidth and better connectivity for their cellular and other devices with 5G, but there is a huge problem. This new connectivity cannot be delivered without massive amounts of fiber-optics everywhere.

    Every cell (small or macro) tower will need fiber-optics to effectively deliver the speeds and reliability required. This becomes a big problem with only 13% of Americans having fiber-optics to the home.

    Some sources are saying to cover a square mile of urban landscape some 480 5G small cells will be required to be installed (every 700-1000 feet) to ensure direct line of sight; remember mmWaves can be blocked by trees, buildings, and more so more cells are required to work around those obstacles.

    4G macro cell coverage vs 5G small cell
    The image of the above shows the range of a single 4G macro cell — 10 square miles. The image on the right shows an example of how many 5G cells would be needed for just a single square mile from the first image.

    When thinking just about cost for laying the fiber ($100k a mile) and back-haul connection charges, the number of small cells required per square mile, and the costs of the small cells (much more than $100 each), it become clearer that 5G may have some difficulty being implemented unless everything lines up just right. As an example, Chicago has less than 15% (estimated) of households with fiber to the home. With such a low amount of fiber in Chicago, it becomes clear that 5G is going to have a tough time being implemented in any manner to match the hype.

    If you have to build that much fiber in the kind of density necessary for 5G and that close to the home and businesses, why would you not just do fiber to the home?

    “The question “Who needs fiber when the future is wireless?” merits a similarly snappy response. Fiber is complementary to wireless. They do not substitute for one another. In order to work, very- high- capacity wireless connections—5G—require fiber to run deep into neighborhoods and buildings, and future wireless networks will look like present-day Wi-Fi in their architecture: relatively small areas, each attached to fiber. That fiber will need to be publicly over-seen in order to avoid the monopolization we have already seen in wired internet access.”


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