The fifth generation of wireless network technology (5G) is a transformative technology enabler that will help usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But how does it work? Each generation improved on the preceding generation, and 5G not only builds on that foundation, but stakes out new ground. 

How cell data travels today

To understand how cell data travels, you first must understand the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes everything from infrared rays to radio waves, X-Rays, visible light, microwaves, and more.

Cellular technology operates upon the radio spectrum (not visible), which includes frequencies of 3 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz). Most of today's technologies rely on 4G connectivity. This connectivity, which was 500 times faster than its predecessor (3G), operates at between 600 MHz to 2.5 GHz.

4G's speed helped to fuel many of today's innovations, including the early stages of the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality, and autonomous vehicles.

While some see 5G connectivity as a technology of the future, Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband network is already available in more than 30 cities nationwide. Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband network can carry a remarkably higher volume of data than is possible on today's LTE networks, and that bandwidth is critical for tomorrow's most innovative technologies to take flight.

In recent tests, Verizon's 5G has performed at five times the speed of 4G. 5G-enabled technologies mean quicker downloads, much lower lag, and a significant impact on how we live, work, and play.

What does it mean for consumers? The low latency of a 5G network--that is, the time required for a packet of data to travel between two points--can dramatically alter how people interact with data. And that's increasingly necessary in a world where billions of devices will be coming online in the next few years.

The connectivity benefits of 5G are expected to make businesses more efficient and give consumers access to more information faster than ever before. Connected cars, smart communities, industrial IoT, and immersive education all will rely on 5G.

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Combined, low latency and high bandwidth allow for faster upload and download speeds, opening up a wide range of potential benefits: like people streaming 4K video in seconds, essentially seamless VR experiences, advances in remote medicine, the prospect of adjusting traffic flow in real time, and more.

The potential of 5G is limited only by an innovator's imagination.

How does 5G technology work?

Verizon is provisioning its 5G Ultra Wideband network through a combination of deep fiber assets, small cells, and extensive radio wave spectrum holdings. A critical component of Verizon's spectrum holdings is called millimeter wave spectrum, which refers to high frequency bands--specifically, those in the 28 GHz to 38 GHz range. It is in these spectrum bands that tomorrow's most audacious, latency-sensitive and bandwidth-intensive innovations will rely. Think of millimeter wave spectrum as the widest, fastest highway on the planet, with millions of trucks traveling centimeters apart from one another at unbelievable speeds--smoothly.

The latency piece cannot be understated. 5G Ultra Wideband customers should expect latency to eventually drop below 10 milliseconds.

A critical component of Verizon's 5G buildout is small cells: These transmitters, roughly the size of a laptop computer are strategically placed in locations where usage demands are highest--such as downtown areas, shopping centers, sports venues, and college campuses.

The future will be defined by the movement of data. An estimated 20.4 billion device--whether VR goggles, cloud gaming systems, IoT sensors, or self-driving vehicles--are expected to be online by 2020, and all will be making heavy data demands on the network. 5G cannot only make these data-intensive applications viable, but it has the potential to alter the very way data shapes our world.

Learn more about what 5G is, and Verizon's leadership in building out America's first commercial 5G network.