Maybe the next generation of wireless technology, known as 5G, is going to be a bit more interesting than we’ve heard previously.
Telecom industry experiments have already shown that 5G will bring incredible speeds—100 times faster than most current 4G networks—though with some challenges concerning how far the signals can travel, or propagate.
The federal government is doing its part, paying for more research and drafting regulations to promote 5G. But the industry’s potential applications for 5G have been a bit underwhelming, at least for consumers.
Verizon has talked about using 5G networks to reduce the cost of wiring up neighborhoods for its FiOS pay TV and Internet service, while AT&T has discussed using 5G to connect smart devices like self-driving cars and robots.
On Tuesday, T-Mobile—perhaps the most consumer-oriented carrier—unveiled a vision for 5G that was entirely focused on new applications for ordinary mobile users. Chief technology officer Neville Ray says he envisioned entirely new applications made possible by the super high bandwidth of 5G would start becoming available in 2020.
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“We will see a transformation of personal communications,” Ray tells Fortune, pointing to more realistic, immersive, and timely virtual reality and augmented reality applications that will become available with 5G.
In tests, T-Mobile has reached speeds of 12 gigabits per second, he cites. The fastest speeds on T-Mobile’s current 4G LTE network—which only a few phones can reach—top out at 400 megabits per second.
Ray says he’s become “increasingly frustrated” by the 5G visions of other carriers, particularly those focused on wireless home Internet connections. “It’s a complete yawner and a bit of a travesty for the industry to talk about that one use case,” he remarks.
In a T-Mobile video demonstration simulating future applications, a bicyclist receives real time navigational information projected in front of him, including a warning of an oncoming car. Two women speak different languages, but receive translated audio in real time. And a woman sitting in the park is immersed in a 360-degree virtual reality projection of a rock concert happening live somewhere else.
Still, there is much development and further experimentation needed to improve the propagation of 5G signals, Ray concedes. That may require denser wireless networks with more transmitting stations, use of additional spectrum bands, and additional technologies—some of which T-Mobile is already adding to its 4G network.
“We’re very confident those solutions will come to bear,” he says.