Everything You Need to Know About 5G

3 minute read

Wireless carriers around the world are beginning to deploy 5G, the latest and greatest in mobile broadband technology.

Like the evolution from 3G to 4G, the jump to 5G will mean faster speeds, lower latency and many other benefits. It’ll be a major boost for businesses, gamers, livestreamers and more. It could be a huge leap in other ways, too — 5G is so much faster than 4G, and has so much less latency, that it could become the platform for all sorts of new services.

Of course, there are also downsides. To enjoy the benefits of 5G, you’ll need to upgrade to a smartphone that’s compatible with the new networks. And privacy experts are worried that 5G could help law enforcement track suspects’ movements in ways that could violate their rights, for instance. But health concerns circulating online about 5G networks have no basis in science.

Want to know more about 5G wireless technology? Here’s a quick FAQ:

What is 5G?

It’s a new cellular-network technology. It can transmit data much more quickly than 4G, which many of us use to connect to the Internet today. But it also requires towns and cities to set up a much higher number of small cells, or short-range transmitters, to provide the same geographic coverage as 4G.

What will it meant to me?

5G promises to bring faster speeds and lower latency–the time it takes data to move back and forth–meaning the apps and services you use, like video chat and mobile gaming, will be much quicker. It could also enable disruptive new wireless innovations, potentially powering the next big tech unicorn like Uber or Snapchat.

How much faster is 5G?

Networks will be about 20 times faster than 4G networks on average, meaning you could download Avengers: Endgame in the time it takes Thanos to snap his fingers. Latency could be as low as 1 ms, compared with 50 ms for 4G.

Will I need a new phone to use 5G?

Yes. Smartphone makers like Samsung and Motorola are already rolling out 5G-compatible phones, and Apple is expected to follow suit soon. You can still use your current smartphone on 4G networks until you are ready to upgrade.

Where can I use 5G today?

The four major wireless carriers are introducing 5G coverage in dozens of cities in 2019 and 2020, including Atlanta, Denver and Washington. 5G coverage within cities may be limited at first, however, with only certain neighborhoods getting access.

Who else will benefit from 5G?

The technology could revolutionize businesses from agriculture to manufacturing. Factory owners could use it to control their robots. Farmers could use it to keep tabs on autonomous smart tractors. Carmakers see it as a key technology for self-driving cars, helping such vehicles “talk” to one another about road conditions, hazards and more. And like other groundbreaking technologies before it, 5G promises to unleash a wave of innovative new startups and services we can’t foresee.

Are there any downsides to 5G?

Privacy advocates worry that 5G could make it easier for law enforcement and others to track a person’s whereabouts with pinpoint precision as their phone connects to multiple cells. They also have concerns about its potential to greatly improve facial-recognition software. However, conspiracy theories circulating online claiming that 5G signals have been linked to cancer have no basis in science.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com