As 5G heads for IoT, 4G is far from done

A survey shows most carriers expect the two to coexist, and LTE is getting faster.

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A booth demonstration at Mobile World Congress shows models of autonomous cars to illustrate potential capabilities of 5G mobile technology, in a file image taken on Feb. 25, 2016. Credit: Stephen Lawson

The iPhone 7 expected to debut on Sept. 7 may offer a glimpse into the future of smartphones, but it won’t have 5G. And even though the next generation of cellular is due to launch in 2020, high-end handsets may be LTE-only for years to come.

A new IHS Markit survey of mobile operators says they see 5G as a tool for industry more than for smartphone users. But consumers probably won’t have to worry about getting stuck in the slow lane, because LTE is still getting faster.

Increasingly, it looks like 5G will handle things 4G can’t handle while LTE continues to do the job it was designed for, based on the research company’s latest findings.

Most of the service providers surveyed – 79 percent – said the internet of things will be the top use case for 5G. More are coming around to this way of thinking, too. Last year, 55 percent called IoT the main application.

The advancement they’re counting on the most -- and the hardest to achieve -- is ultra-low latency, or very short delays between when a bit is sent and when a device receives it, IHS said. That’s important for things like robots, self-driving cars, and cellular-driven virtual reality. The goal is to reach 1 millisecond, quicker than LTE can achieve.

Features like low latency are expected to require a new radio access technology that will have to be defined in 5G. LTE might continue to handle mobile broadband for things like phones and tablets. According to the survey, 75 percent of the carriers think 5G should coexist with 4G instead of replacing it.

Meanwhile, 4G is still improving. On Monday, Verizon Wireless rolled out a feature it says can improve peak LTE speeds by 50 percent. The feature, Verizon LTE Advanced, ties together two or three wireless channels for a fatter pipe to a phone or other device. Two bands can provide download speeds up to 225Mbps (bits per second) and three can deliver as much as 300Mbps. Typical download speeds should remain 5Mbps to 12Mbps, Verizon says.

Verizon LTE Advanced is available at no extra charge in 461 markets around the U.S. and works on 39 devices already in use on the carrier’s network, the company said. Those include the current iPhone models and Samsung’s flagship Android phones, the Galaxy S6 and S7.

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