Even if you’re not a techie, chances are you’ve seen or heard a lot about 5G lately. It’s currently plastered on most billboards and banners inside telecom and phone stores; it’s been a hot topic in world politics and there’s even a wild conspiracy theory that claims 5G causes the coronavirus. (No, it does not). But what is 5G exactly? It’s the fifth generation technology of mobile cellular networks that offers vastly improved speed and bandwidth over the 4G, aka LTE, networks on which your phone is almost certainly running right now. Apple’s US$400 iPhone SE: fast and small with a disappointing camera 5G is particularly important – it is one of the key tensions in the US/China trade war is due to US President Donald Trump’s desire for America to “beat” China to 5G deployment – because 5G is a far bigger technological jump over 4G than any previous generation jump. 5G, when it’s fully developed, is said to be close to 100 times faster than 4G right now. What new products can we expect from Apple this year? Speed is obviously important – with 5G, you’d be able to load any website, PDF document or Netflix movie instantaneously – but it’s the advanced bandwidth capabilities that will be world changing. To use a real world metaphor: data speed is similar to how fast a car can go on a freeway; data bandwidth is how many lanes are on said freeway. As anyone who’s stuck in traffic knows, if the road is wider with more lanes, traffic flows smoother and faster. Is Apple’s new US$400 iPhone SE right for you? 1G gave us the ability to make calls on the go; 2G allowed us to send and load text; 3G let us send photos and 4G made streaming video and music a thing. But the sheer speed and bandwidth of 5G networks will be the structure on which entire smart cities and ecosystems are built. Right now, what’s limiting self-driving cars such as those you saw in Tom Cruise’s 2002 film Minority Report , virtual reality applications and other IoT (internet of things) infrastructure is not that the hardware isn’t ready, it’s that the networks aren’t ready to handle all that data. 5G will change this with URLLC (Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Connection), offering instant communication between networks and devices. At a macro societal level – there will be enough data zipping around at lightspeed to power entire smart cities: hospitals can send patient data to hospitals while on route; stop lights can be smart enough to account for flow of traffic from data sent from the other side of town; self-driving cars will be much safer with a more capable artificial intelligence. 5G, when fully realised, will bring trillions to the global economy. But benefits will be had on a smaller personal level, too: virtual reality content will become more immersive with higher resolution visuals; e-commerce companies can build augmented reality applications that allow users to see the item in the real world before purchase, much like the scenes in the cyberpunk sequel, Blade Runner 2049 . All in all, there will be better communication all around. Is Apple’s iPad Pro better than Microsoft’s Surface Pro? “But 5G has already launched, so where are all the benefits now?” you may ask. Yes, 5G networks have gone live in parts of South Korea, mainland China, the US and UK, and in the past month, Hong Kong. But the current 5G tech that is flowing through our airwaves is in its preliminary stage, with very limited broadcast range. Essentially, you’d have to walk a few blocks just to find a street corner with proper 5G reception. That means all the talks of 5G smartphones right now are mostly marketing hype. The reality is 5G will not really benefit the average user until at least another year or two. The fact that Apple did not put 5G bands in the iPhone 11 last autumn (despite Android competitors such as Samsung and Huawei rushing to implement 5G) says it all. As much as marketers want us to think we live in the age of 5G now, it’s still a 4G world for most of us today. But the age of 5G is coming. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter . Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.