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Fiber Will Fix Your Internet, Not 5G

There’s this idea I’ve seen slowly starting to take shape that 5G internet will someday be able to solve America’s internet woes. The idea is simple in theory: By placing 5G towers in neighborhoods, houses can connect to these towers for their internet needs instead of using a cable or fiber line. Since 5G is so fast, this means you’ll get a much better connection, right? In theory, yes, but in practice, no. 5G is a pretty neat technology, but it has some pretty major fundamental flaws built into it, and the underlying technology that makes it faster can still face the same limits you do today. So if you have the choice between a fiber line and 5G internet always pick the fiber line. Why? Let’s get into that:

5G is Only Fast When You See It

This might sound silly, but it is ultimately true: 5G internet requires line of sight to maximize it’s speed. If even a leaf gets between you and the 5G tower, your signal will immediately drop to 4G speeds. There’s even concerns that rain can affect your 5G signal. This is all due to how 5G works: 5G operates on a much higher frequency spectrum, meaning that the waves it sends out go shorter distances and have a significantly harder time going through objects.

At its fastest, 5G cannot pass through any kind of solid materials, and may even have difficulty in certain weather conditions. This means that not only do you need line of sight to the 5G towers, but you also need more of these towers to get the same coverage. Having a tower down the street won’t do your house any good, just like having a fiber line that stops at your neighbors house won’t either. This leads into the second biggest issue 5G has:

5G Still Needs a Fast Connection

While your connection to a 5G tower might be fast, that 5G tower still needs to connect to the rest of the internet. If that connection is just what your house is using, then you’re going to face the same slow speeds you have today! This means that to really make the best use of the speed 5G provides, all of the 5G towers in your area will likely still need a fiber connection, since that’s going to be what can provide the fastest speeds to everyone connected to that tower.

So if they’re bringing fiber to the 5G tower by your house, why not just go that extra last mile with fiber to your house? This is the ultimate conundrum with 5G: It still requires a faster connection then what your home has to be better. You could even do a copper line from the fiber line and that would still be faster than what many people have in their homes today. There’s no reason to go with the 5G tower if you can get the fiber line supporting it to your house instead.

5G Needs Your Power

This last point is something I haven’t seen discussed often enough with 5G: The power requirements. A fiber line is simply a cable through which light travels. There’s not a whole lot to it, meaning it consumes very little electricity. It’s a simple cable. 5G does not have that benefit. In fact, 5G devices often have some pretty intense power consumption. One or two devices in a home consuming that much power is one thing, but a whole neighborhood of these devices could see dramatic changes in a bad way.

As time goes on, the devices in homes will hopefully become more energy efficient, but will this hit a limit? It’s hard to say right now, and finding studies into this is difficult. One thing that we do know is that the wavelength at which 5G operates does require more power than 4G or 3G towers did before it. When these towers need to operate for many homes and phones as well, will they need more power to maintain the same reach? There are many unanswered questions around the power consumption of 5G still.

Go for Fiber

At the end of the day, a fiber internet connection will serve you far better than a 5G tower will. While the costs may be slightly higher to install it, the benefits will outweigh the negatives in the long run. From faster speeds, to longer lasting hardware, to everything mentioned in this story, fiber is far superior to 5G, especially at this stage of development for 5G. While many internet service providers may try to sell 5G as an alternative to fiber and other high speed internet connections, it really doesn’t compare in the same ways. The United States needs to continue to push for fiber internet, and not settle for something lesser.

Software engineer, hardware tinkerer, and a big fan of running. I write about whatever crosses my mind, but try to focus on business vs tech vs philosophy.

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