How’s your digital life so far? If you are like this humble writer, you’re pretty much online all the time. You get your news and entertainment from the internet when you’re at home. You do online research in the office. And you even check in and post photos on different social networking apps and sites while you are out.
The dark ages
Just be glad that you’re not in the 1990s anymore. That “glorious time” when the internet speed topped at a blazing 56Kbps and downloading a single mp3 file took half a day—if you were lucky. Or even earlier in the ‘70s and ‘80s when loading a screenful of text took more than a minute.
Oh, how far we’ve gone from the Stone Age (or is that the Copper Age?) of the internet. When the so-called World Wide Web was filled with static pages and the only kind of animation was .gif and tiny Quicktime videos.
Who doesn’t remember (and cringe) staring at our non-widescreen monitors and wait until the whole page finishes loading. Only to find out that the dial-up connection got disconnected and we had to refresh the page. The time when we’d flip our lid when a video stops loading. Okay, to be fair we still do that. But at least now we have broadband at home!
High-speeds at home
These days there are no problems accessing the Internet when you are at home or in the office as most likely you’re connected via cable or DSL. If you’re lucky, you’re doing all of your “Internet things” on a 3Mbps or 5Mbps connection. That’s great if you’re watching high-definition videos on YouTube with the occasional buffering and generally lag-free online gaming.
If you’re really lucky (and paying P20,000 a month), you have a blazing 100Mbps. But seriously, how many people are willing to pay that much just to watch buffer-less YouTube videos at 1080p?
As it is, we are contented with our reliable broadband Internet at home. Or are we? Are we really satisfied staying at home to get a mostly reliable internet connection?
The mobile revolution
Some argue that it was the Apple iPhone that brought about the mobile revolution. While they may have a point, the revolution certainly did not start spontaneously. Let us not forget the Handspring phones that combines the PDA and mobile phones. And the BlackBerry phones that let us have email anywhere. But I digress…
We’re not even going to talk about WAP or GPRS (another cringe). The mobile revolution and the iPhone gave us internet on-the-go. Barely. With the original iPhone, it was all about 2.75G or more commonly known as EDGE. With EDGE connection we got double the speed 56K modems in the past. But it was still not enough. Try turning off 3G capability on your smartphone for a day and see how long you can last.
Speaking of 3G, thank the gods that it arrived quickly. Local major telecoms offer 3G speeds of 7.5Mbps and 21Mbps speeds. Even at its lowest speed, that’s faster than the 3Mbps Internet connection at home. With 3G, we were able to do all our internet surfing on the palm of our hands, quite literally. We can read Web pages, communicate via social media, and even watch videos on Youtube with (almost) no hitch. Unfortunately, 3G still isn’t as ubiquitous as one would hope. Get into a certain area in the metro and your data connection will dramatically reduce or worse, drop dead.
The current wireless speed king is Long Term Evolution or more commonly known as LTE. It is also called 4G as it has a theoretical speed of 300Mbps down and 75Mbps up. That is significantly higher than the technology it is replacing. Both of the major local telecoms have already deployed the technology but it is only limited to 42Mbps at the moment.
However, we know that when we finally reach 300Mbps, we’ll still demand more. There will come a time that even LTE-A speed is not enough. We will demand even more bandwidth as we consume more and more data to do activities like streaming 4K movies on our smartphones and tablets.
Usher in 5G
It’s a good thing that there are already plans for its successor, 5G. With 5G, we are talking about 10Gbps speeds over the air. That’s 10,000Mbps and beyond! But that’s not all. The next generation of wireless connectivity promises even wider coverage and more importantly, reliability.
The obvious question though, what would we need 10Gbps speed for? While 10Gbps is certainly something we all want on our smartphones, having a wider coverage as well as reliable service is more important than the speed.
So, when are we going to see 5G? Unfortunately, not for a while. As of this year, 5G technology is still in the research and prototype phase. If the roadmap of 5G is any indication, it may even take up to 2025 for 5G technology to be deployed worldwide.
And you might want to migrate to South Korea by that time to be one of the first to experience 5G data speeds. The country’s science ministry announced that it will spend $1.5 billion to roll out 5G service within 6 years. By 2020, the country aims to provide you with connection that will allow you to download full-length feature film in a second.
Still not satisfied with 5G speeds? How does 40x the speed of LTE sound? IBM Research, in cooperation with Swiss research institution, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, recently announced that it has developed technology that could help boost Internet speeds up to 400Gb/s.
What does that mean for consumers? In the short term, not that much as the technology is ways off from deployment and replacing 5G. In the long term though, it could mean lower prices for 5G speed. You will be able to stream ultra-high definition 4K resolution movies with surround sound without buffering at home. And you will still have enough bandwidth for family members to stream music and play lag-free online games at the same time and for cheap.
So, while we curse our telecoms now for our slow internet speed on our smartphone. We should take heart that an even better and faster technology is on the way. We just have to be a bit more patient and not flip out at videos buffering too much.