If you're like most people, you probably fall into one of two categories: You either can't wait for  5G to finally come to your city because it's going to completely change the world, or you have no idea  what 5G even means and don't really care. If you're in the latter group, the short version is this: 5G is the next-generation standard of wireless networks and it's supposed to provide faster-than-broadband speeds to your cellular devices.

Regardless of which category you are in, there's a lot of hype around 5G lately, much of which is just that --hype. So let's cut through the noise and talk about what you really need to know about 5G.

5G is fast. Really fast.

Verizon has said that their 5G network is 200x faster than their 4G LTE network. That's really fast. This kind of speed only exists in the wild in a few select places, but as carriers turn on their network, pay attention to real-world speeds being reported. 

5G probably won't change your everyday internet browsing experience. However, there's certainly a business case to be made for being able to share files, stream live HD video, and run cloud-based computing and software from basically anywhere.

It's not just for phones.

5G data networks are way faster than you could possibly use on a smartphone. Even if you wanted to stream live 4K video of your daughter's wedding from your phone, you still wouldn't take advantage of the speed and bandwidth of real 5G. Then again, that's not really what 5G is for. It's supposed to be what finally makes the "internet of things" possible, where every device in your home or business is connected and can be controlled through the cloud. 

I'm not holding my breath, but in theory, it'll be possible. Of course, I've survived almost 40 years without a refrigerator that was able to stream video to my phone of whether or not I ran out of eggs. It sounds cool I guess, but seriously, at some point technology has enabled us to completely forget how to do normal adult things like make a grocery list.

The business implications could be huge.

While I'm not buying a 4k video wireless 5G fridge anytime soon, there are some seriously cool things that will be possible with 5G, like remote telemedicine in rural locations without reliable copper-wire broadband service. Imagine being able to reliably provide remote video support for your HVAC customers. Or think about being able to connect your remote workers to your network infrastructure at high speeds regardless of where they choose to work.

I suspect one of the most significant areas we'll see 5G deployed is accessing artificial intelligence and augmented reality computing in the cloud without having to be tethered to a fiber connection. As more and more heavy-lifting computing moves to services like AWS and Azure, I suspect we'll see 5G expand the ability to connect and work without worrying about whether you'll have a fast enough internet connection.

Most of what is being marketed as 5G isn't.

This is where the hype comes in. In reality, Verizon is the only carrier that has actually started turning on its 5G network, and then only in a few cities. If you aren't living in Chicago or Minneapolis, and your mobile device says 5G, it's just marketing at this point. By the way, your 4G data plan probably isn't actually 4G either. If your phone says LTE when you connect to your network, you might not even be getting real 4G. 

Just like 4G LTE is basically the mobile data equivalent of caffeine-free Mountain Dew (which, come on, shouldn't even be a thing), most of the 5G "Evolution" marketing is just to make you think you're getting 5G when you're really just getting a slightly faster version of what you already had. So far, unless you're using a Galaxy S10 5G in one of the two cities where Verizon has turned on their network, you're basically getting carbonated green citrus water.

It probably won't replace your wired internet.

While the 5G networks being built by carriers today will easily compete with most residential broadband services in terms of speed, it's still not likely that they'll replace them any time soon. One of the biggest reasons is that WiFi is everywhere and in most places, public WiFi is free and basically, every computer and device in the last 10 years can connect to it. That won't be true of 5G.

I'm not convinced yet that 5G is going to change the world. However, just like 4G and unlimited data plans made it possible to binge watch Netflix on your phone during your morning commute, I'm sure 5G will bring with it ways to enhance our lives that we'll soon wonder how we managed to live without.

Published on: May 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.