What 5G can do for you besides fast phone downloads

5G technology may wind up being a greater part of your life than you know. Here's how it could affect the world around you now and in the future.

Jessica Dolcourt
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Jessica Dolcourt
1 of 22 Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

5G is all about lightning-fast speed, for your phone and beyond. This next-generation wireless technology promises to make downloads and uploads ultrafast, but it's also poised to open up new or better ways of doing everything from growing food to saving lives.

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5G will take time to expand

For now, 5G's benefits start with the phone. When it eventually replaces 4G, 5G data transfer will be between 10 and 100 times faster than today's networks. 

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A journey, not a destination

The earliest 5G speeds tests taught us six hard truths about what we really want. Since our first real-world 5G speed test in 2019, every major carrier has invested in making their networks more reliable and available in more areas.

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Downloading large files, fast

We can't talk about 5G without mentioning one of its most immediate uses: Downloading large files in seconds, like the entire season of Stranger Things 3 to watch offline, and streaming high-def movies without a hiccup. But don't worry, there's more 5G promises to do.

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Uploading files in a snap

It will also upload files quickly, like all those video clips you publish to YouTube and TikTok, and tons of high-resolution photos to save online. Verizon recently turned on 5G uploads in 35 cities.

6 of 22 César Concepción Salza/ CNET

Crystal-clear video calls

5G networks combine those blistering data speeds with almost zero lag connecting to the network. That could lead to video calls with pin-sharp resolution and minimal image buffering or freezing.

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Streaming your video games in real time

The same philosophy applies to real-time, high-definition gameplay, as with resource-heavy games such as PUBG Mobile.

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5G development shuold make 4G faster, too

As carriers build out and improve 5G networks, their 4G networks may reap some benefits. They share much of the same equipment, so even if you don't use 5G, or drop down to 4G speeds, providers still want the experience to be impressively fast.

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High resolution AR in real time

Augmented reality games such as Pokemon Go and Harry Potter: Wizard's Unite rely on your phone's data connection to create virtual elements in the world around you. A faster connection could make objects richer and more immersive, and expand well beyond games.

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Hands-free VR that won't make you puke

When it comes to VR headsets, 5G's contribution is expected to bring you richer graphics and lower latency -- which means a lot less of the stuff that often makes people feel queasy and disoriented when trying out or using VR. Eventually, the goal is to render graphics in the cloud. 

VR headsets that can run off your 5G phone are still on track for 2020, Qualcomm, the world's largest mobile chipmaker, said.

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TV you can move with your finger

Samsung's demo of interactive "TV" made an impression when I saw it in February 2019. As shown on a Galaxy S10 5G, you could one zoom in on a live-streamed baseball game to see players up-close. You could also also twist your fingers to rotate your vantage point, which means you're looking at different players from every angle while they throw, catch and run.

12 of 22 Jessica Dolcourt / CNET

Instant language translation

Translations, like through Google Translate, take a lot of AI work, and, if you're translating on the fly, a lot of data. 5G holds the power to translate large amounts of text or speech quickly and flawlessly, even more so than with 4G today.

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Ultrafast 5G laptops

We already have 4G LTE-enabled laptops, so laptops that directly tap into the 5G network from anywhere without needing a phone, hotspot or Wi-Fi access point are the next logical evolution. The first 5G laptops are destined for 2020. It isn't clear what kind of delay could be caused by complications from the coronavirus pandemic, but there's still half the year to go. 

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Fixed 5G could replace your Wi-Fi

It's too soon to replace your home Wi-Fi network with home broadband over 5G, but it's one of the reasons fans are excited by the new technology. If anything, it could keep you from screaming at your cable box

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First responders could become faster responders

5G's higher data speeds can potentially help first responders save more lives. By relying on the powerful new networks to control its dispatch system, responders such as the London Air Ambulance, pictured here, can cut down their response time, and send help faster.

Argo AI Detroit
16 of 22 Argo AI

Avoiding crashes on the road

Self-driving cars already sound futuristic, but as they develop alongside 5G, they'll be able to use sensors to tap into the network and instantly communicate with other vehicles on the road, avoiding collisions by knowing where every car is. 

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Smart cities that run on 5G

Data is at the heart of smart cities, which use vast quantities of it to help manage the city better. 5G is pegged to power the network infrastructure of smart cities in the 2020s, everything from the electrical grid to water supply. Here's more on how 5G can impact smart cities

Putting on gloves in operating theatre, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London UK
18 of 22 Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Telemedicine and remote surgery

5G could support health care in numerous ways, but remote surgery is the most exciting. A form of robotic surgery, the surgeon controls surgical robots in a facility miles away to conduct a procedure. Advanced imaging guides the surgeon. This can't be done with 4G, because the lag time is too great for such precise work. Supported by a 5G network, this type of surgery could help specialists attend to more patients in critical conditions throughout the world.

19 of 22 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Farming food

A combination of sensors and drones could help farmers maintain ideal conditions for growing and raising food. For example, connected collars can help monitor an animal's real-time health. Drones can transmit photos from the field. Sensors can tell automated systems to adjust the water temperature and salt content of fish farms. Beyond speed, 5G can also handle different data needs, enabling these low-data farming sensors to run for 10 years on a single battery charge. 

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More efficient factories

Sensors are also the key ingredient in 5G-connected factory equipment that can automatically upload information about productivity, and alert workers if machines malfunction, making the entire operation more efficient. 

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What next: Cheaper 5G phones and carrier plans

5G is in its early days and it isn't cheap. Over time, the prices of 5G phones and carrier plans will come down. AT&T alone plans to launch 15 5G phones by the end of 2020. T-Mobile is also expected to bring some huge competition to the 5G game. Here are the best 5G phones you can by today.

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What's undeniable is that 5G holds a lot of potential to improve everything around you, from your phone to health care, farming, and smart cities. As wonderful as it sounds, 5G isn't a slam dunk yet -- challenges like pricing, widespread coverage and designing systems to use 5G lie ahead as these networks develop.

Here's where you can read more about the 5G revolution.

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