5G Wireless — Latency vs. Speed

The mainstream introduction of 5G wireless service looks to be around two years away. Many of the top players in technology — both from a mobile device and networking equipment standpoint — are involved in research and testing of new 5G product designs. We’ve been talking about this latest tier in mobile communications for nearly three years.

5G Wireless future

Wireless Internet service with a speed nearly rivaling the Holy Grail of “One Gig” brings with it the potential to revolutionize the industry even more than 4G. But will speed actually be the most relevant metric in this new era of mobile? Some technology experts feel latency might ultimately be as important in the 5G equation. Fortunately it is a simple process to test your latency today.

Here is a look at some of the details behind this interesting question.

What is Networking Latency?

Using its most basic definition, latency is the time between any stimulation and its subsequent response. In networking, simply consider it to be the time between making a request for data and receiving the data on your computer or mobile device. Smaller latencies give the perception of a more responsive connection.

Latencies less than 25 milliseconds are considered optimal for most applications.

Latency Can Be More Important than Speed

In a 5G wireless networking scenario — or even a fiber Internet connection — latency is very important for applications where you need to quickly see a response to your input. Home automation use-cases are one area where latency is arguably more important than Internet speed. You turn on a light using an app on your smartphone, and you don’t want to wait in the dark an extra second or two.

As AT&T continues in its 5G research, company President, Ralph de la Vega, notes the importance of latency for Internet of Things applications, especially when they involve driverless vehicles. “Autonomous cars, for example, are going to be big, but a lot of decisions that a car, or a machine has to make, are real time based. When a car has to turn it has to do it instantly, and having the network capability that allows that to happen will make this much safer in the future.”

The technology giant hopes to begin field trials of their nascent 5G technology later this summer. While the consumer applications for this technology are numerous, industrial IoT applications are also in AT&T’s future plans. The company feels low latency 5G networking offers many opportunities for innovations in areas from factories to home automation tin addition to automated vehicles.

Once 5G networking reaches the consumer mainstream in a 2018 to 2019 timeframe, it will be interesting to see if the continued rollout of fiber starts to become an afterthought. It will undoubtedly be a trend to watch from now until the end of the decade.