Tired of your pokey 4G LTE wireless network speeds already? Faster standards are already on the horizon.
Samsung demonstrated a so-called 5G technology this week, using 64 antennas to transfer data at gigabit speeds over a distance of 2 kilometers. That's about 50 times the average speed you get on AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) 4G connections today, not to mention the potential for better signal coverage and fewer dropped connections.
Nobody quite knows what to use such ultra-fast networks for yet. In fact, it's hard to find a use case for the gigabit speeds of a hardwired network, like the one Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is rolling out in a handful of cities. The fattest high-definition "super high-def" video streams from Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) only use about 7 megabits per second, so it would take more than 140 concurrent streams of that caliber to saturate the fiber pipe. Netflix can't even make Google Fiber break a sweat, and most hardwired cable modem plans are perfectly fine for this type of media consumption.
High-quality video is about the most bandwidth-hungry thing we can do with an Internet connection these days, and mobile devices are not particularly well suited for that sort of consumption. So you could argue that a gigabit-level mobile connection is overkill to the nth degree, and the 10-gigabit connections Samsung plans in future iterations even more so. The 4G LTE hookups we get from Big Red and Ma Bell today are certainly good enough for most online activities you can do today, and they should be fine for the foreseeable future.
Or maybe not.
Samsung expects to roll out commercial-grade 5G networks in about seven years. Seven years ago, we were still getting used to megabit cable modems and DSL lines replacing the dreaded 56K modem beeps.
By 2020, I'll bet that someone out there has come up with services or products that actually need gigabit speeds a and more. If I knew exactly what that might be, I'd be a highly paid futurist researcher in a top-secret underground lab somewhere. But I do know these things:
- Our definition of "high definition video" will change as broadcast and display technologies grow more mature. When 2020 rolls around, today's so-called HD sets will look as quaintly outdated as my 2001-era tube TV does now. That's one way to fill bandwidth pipes.
- Fiber-optic connections may eventually give way to wireless technologies, even for high-speed Internet subscriptions. Recall how hardwired telephones gave way to cordless ones with a base station a and now everyone chats away on fully mobile handsets instead. Apply that transition to a wider market, and you'll see what I mean. So that's another reason to improve wireless speeds.
- Where's the digital teleporter I was promised in 1982? That'll take a resolution far beyond the "Retina" precision we're starting to take for granted, not to mention multiplied by thousands of hardware pixels in third-dimension depth. Okay, this one might still be 100 years away but the thought is interesting.
So things will keep changing, and Samsung is just doing its part. Never mind that we don't have true 4G networks yet (more like 3.5G, really), but the fifth generation is coming. And the sixth. And the seventh.