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The first generation of cell phones provided only analog voice communication. Second-generation technology brought digital networks and texting capability. Third-generation networks let us view email and web pages. Today’s fourth-generation (4G) cellular networks can handle streaming audio and video.
But as an ever-increasing number of mobile users and the demand for data strain the capacity of 4G networks, telecommunications companies are planning the next generation of wireless technology—5G—that will carry more traffic at higher speeds. The result should move wireless networks closer to the capacities of fiber optic home internet.
Telecommunications providers are shooting for 5G download speeds of as much as 20 gigabits per second (Gbps), compared with a maximum of about 1 Gbps on 4G networks. They predict latency—delays in sending data packets—will drop from 70 milliseconds to 1 millisecond. Such blazingly fast networks would allow users to download a full-length high-definition movie in less than a second, compared with about 10 minutes on a 4G network, according to IEEE Spectrum.
But to handle the increase in user demand, 5G networks will have to use more of the radio frequency spectrum. All the traffic carried by today’s networks is crowded into a very narrow band of the radio spectrum just below 6 gigahertz. More and more users sharing the same slice of the spectrum leads to slower and less reliable service.
To solve this problem, 5G networks will likely use “millimeter wave” technology, which uses a much higher frequency range of the radio spectrum, between 30 and 300 gigahertz. Such high frequencies allow massive increases in bandwidth, but unlike current Wi-Fi signals, millimeter waves can’t travel through big obstacles such as buildings. So instead of large cell towers, 5G networks will use a dense infrastructure of thousands of small, low-power antennas placed on buildings throughout urban areas.
So when will 5G technology be available? The first official 5G launches could come as early as next year, with broad deployment in 2019, according to PCMag. You’ll have to buy a new 5G-capable phone, but equipment manufacturers already have 5G chips in the pipeline for U.S. smartphones. You may see 5G phones on sale within two years.
With electric vehicles becoming more commonplace, charging stations have expanded as well. The U.S. Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website lists 16,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country.
Charging station availability may relieve electric vehicle owners’ anxieties about batteries dying on a long trip, but it doesn’t address another key drawback to electric automobiles: long charging times. Most electric vehicles take hours to fully charge at a standard charging station. Yet what if charging your electric vehicle was about as quick as a standard gasoline fill-up? StoreDot, an Israeli startup, believes it has found such a solution with a car battery it claims can fully charge in just five minutes with a range of 300 miles.
Current lithium-ion batteries can’t be charged too quickly because they can overheat and their electrodes wear out sooner. StoreDot’s battery, using proprietary nanomaterials and organic compounds, not only charges quickly but is safer than lithium-ion because it’s not flammable, the company claims.
“Fast charging is the critical missing link needed to make electric vehicles ubiquitous,” said Doron Myersdorf, the CEO of StoreDot. The company demonstrated the technology, still under development, in May at a Berlin technology fair. —M.C.