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5G will unlock whole new applications -- here are the most promising

There’s a lot of hype around 5G. CNET’s Ask Maggie offers a glimpse into some of the cool things it will enable — and why you should care.

Alex Williamson

Dear Maggie,

I've been hearing so much about 5G wireless. Is it just about having faster internet? Will it really be that different from 4G?

Thanks, Happy with 4G

This is a great question, especially as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to auction off the first set of US licenses for wireless airwaves that will deliver 5G service.

Yes, 5G will be up to 100 times faster than current cellular connections — faster, in fact, than many home broadband services.

But it's not just about speed. Networks will also have more capacity and be more responsive than with previous generations of wireless. That means more people and things can work on the same network without bringing it to a crawl, and with less latency. Latency refers to the lag time between a device pinging the network and getting a response.

It's this latency improvement that will help bring to life some of the hottest trends in technology, like self- driving vehicles and VR. The most intriguing bit: We don't even know some of the apps that will emerge out of 5G, similar to how we couldn't  have predicted the advent of services like Uber or Facebook Live on your phone. 

For now, here's a look at some of the coolest technologies that we know 5G will enable.

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Surgery from afar: Remote surgery isn't new, but 5G could make an enormous difference in providing health care to millions of people in remote locations, as well as training doctors in surgical specialties.

Telecom equipment maker Ericsson is already working with doctors at King's College in London to test 5G-compatible prototypes of touch-sensitive gloves connected to robots.

Yara Shahidi Winter 2018 cover

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Mark Mann

Self-driving cars: The next generation of wireless will make self-driving cars and vehicle-to-vehicle communication — where cars exchange their location, speed, acceleration, direction and steering faster than we can blink — a reality for everyone. Many consider this V2V conversation the most important lifesaving technology to hit the auto industry in more than 10 years. With it, cars can know before their drivers do when a truck five vehicles ahead suddenly brakes or another car turns into your blind spot.

Drones: Just as 5G will allow self-driving cars to talk to each other, the technology will do the same for drones, ensuring the devices zoom above our heads without incident.

Virtual reality: Creating an immersive virtual experience requires moving lots of data over a wireless network. Yes, that network needs to be fast, but it also has to accommodate the fire hose of data necessary to create a truly immersive VR experience.

Bottom line: So many of the technologies and experiences we've been waiting for can finally become reality with next-gen wireless networks. Prepare to be amazed. 

This story originally appeared in the fall 2018 edition of CNET Magazine. Click here for more magazine stories.

5G: Your Next Big Upgrade: CNET's series on the next generation of cellular technology.

The 5G revolution: Everything you need to know about the wireless technology.