The ol' "4G LTE" will be but a memory someday, but probably not soon.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Ethan Wolff-Mann
July 14, 2016

The Federal Communications Commission just cut the tape on a new band of wireless frequency, the untouched realm of 24 GHz that’s loaded with possibility, by rolling out a new set of rules that will serve as a runway for its adoption. This, according to the commisson, will kick off the chapter in wireless becoming “5G.”

A fifth generation network, or 5G, as you might gather from its name, stands to succeed the current 4G LTE standards that power mobile data usage to our phones, enabling Netflix on long car rides and in doctor waiting rooms that are free of an open Wi-Fi network to leech.

The FCC notes that this new standard would result in massive speed upgrades, calling it “fiber-fast”—which could have far-reaching implications for certain fields. To illustrate one of its potential uses, last month FCC Chair Tom Wheeler operated a dirt-moving excavator machine from across the country, using the technology.

“While I may have been in D.C. physically, I am telling you that I was at the site,” he told the National Press Club, about the experience. “I sat in the mock-up of an excavator, and I had complete control sensitivity, equivalent to being there. I could be transported to a site in Texas 1,400 miles away without physically moving an inch.”

These wonders of 5G notwithstanding—and likely to cause consternation to drone-critics—may not be quite so easy to throw into a phone. According to Bloomberg, 5G frequencies can be stopped by walls or even raindrops, casting doubt on its applicability.

While this might pose a problem for phones, it might work well for your house, as Fortune’s Aaron Pressman noted on Twitter, and serve as a new standard of Wi-Fi that can take advantage of Gigabit fiber-speeds and negligible latency.

But this is but a problem for the future—and it’s very possible it’ll be solved for mobile, not only in-house wireless in the years to come. In Wheeler’s view, “The next generation of wireless must be like mobile fiber—and that means speeds 10 to 100 times faster than today.”

True to form, Verizon snapped into gear and put out a press release announcing that it is the first carrier to complete tests, prompting Wired to discourage users from shopping for a new phone.

It’s only today that the FCC began steps to make 5G a reality. “5G technologies are still under development,” the commission wrote, and there are no 5G phones on the market nor infrastructure beyond Verizon’s preliminary test networks to support the proposed phones.

And this is not to mention there is no pressing need for 5G—yet. So buy your phone if you’re in need.

Why might we care about all this? These days, you may not lust for these speeds. After all, 4G LTE can get 1080p video without buffering. But it’s impossible to say what the future will hold, and sometimes you need to build the ballpark before you have the team. Because if you don’t build it, they definitely won’t come.

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