A Verizon Wireless 5G small cell test in Indianapolis. A Verizon Wireless 5G small cell test in Indianapolis. (Image credit: Verizon)

Look, 5G wireless networks are a big deal. Or, rather, they're going to be a big deal. Probably. I don't know yet, because I haven't used one, and neither have you. And the wireless providers, really, are just getting started, too.

Here's what you need to know about 5G: It's the standard that comes after 4G. And 4G basically is LTE, except that the U.S. carriers made a mess of things a few years ago and started conflating 3G with 4G so that they could claim to have 4G before anyone else had 4G and it really was quite the pain in the arse.

Maybe look at it like this: 3G is what your first iPhone probably had. (Unless you had the first iPhone. But that's a whole 'nother thing.) 4G is LTE, and it's what you have now, and probably didn't have until a year or two ago.

5G is a new ballgame. Or, rather, it will be a new ballgame. Eventually.

You almost certainly don't have 5G yet, and probably won't for a while.

First it's going to give your phones faster data connections and lower latency. That's a good thing. And it's going to allow wireless companies to beam this newer, faster, lower-latency data straight into your home. And at some point that may well negate the need for a hardwired internet connection. (Fun fact: That's something the wireless companies talked a lot about doing with 4G back in the day. But for the most part it never happened. Thought that's a different story if you've ever stayed in an Air BnB in Europe.)

Second is that it's going to allow all the things to connect to all the other things in all kinds of new and fast and crazy ways. Never mind the stuff you can already think of — like the stretch of road (and all the things connected to *it) you're driving on connecting directly to your car. Or fleets of driverless vehicles doing their thing more safely than you can do it because they're all talking together.

That's some seriously futuristic stuff, and the simple fact is that most of us don't even have the vocabulary to properly anticipate what's coming.

But we also don't yet have the hardware to make any of this happen. At least not outside of the testing stage, and certainly not at scale.

When you hear AT&T and Verizon fighting over having the first 5G networks and devices (never mind that AT&T is straight-up lying about some of that), know that so far it's extremely limited. We're talking a few parts of a few cities. And we're just now starting to see the very first 5G-capable phones. There's almost a 100 percent chance that you don't yet own one, and won't for some time. And that's not a bad thing. It'll take a while to get built out. And in the meantime, the hardware will be bigger, more expensive, and less good than it will be in another few years.

That brings us back to the home. Not only is it extremely likely that you don't have any 5G antennas pointed at your house (it's shorter range and more directional than the networks you're used to), you don't have anything to pick up the 5G signals anyway.

One day, that'll all change. You'll have a new whizz-bang phone and tablet and car and glasses and books and dogs and cats and all sorts of other things that are all connected to each other in ways you never imaged. And you'll be able to watch 4K movies and TV at ridiculous speeds, without a single data cable reaching into your home.

But not yet.

And that's not to say that things won't get messy at some point. AT&T (which, again, is making a mess out of things by selling "5Ge" data) already envisions an era in which you'll have to pay more for faster wireless data.

From AT&T's Q1 2019 earnings call:

I will be very surprised if as we move into wireless the pricing regime in wireless doesn't look something like the pricing regime you see in fixed-line. If you can offer a gig speed, there are some customers who are willing to pay for a premium for 500 meg to a gig speed. We're two or three years away from seeing that play out.

)That's great. Does that mean we get a discount for all the abysmal AT&T speeds we've been putting up with for years?)

All this is to say that it's early days yet. The first 5G phones are just going up for preorder — and frankly you're better off waiting. It'll be quite some time before 5G takes over our homes, though that's certainly in the cards, too.

For now? It's a matter of patience. Or hype. Your call.

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