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Network latency: What it is and why we should care

"With almost instant latency, surgeons could perform procedures remotely using robotic surgical devices, while self-driving cars could communicate with instant response to prevent crashes."

A fairly obscure tech term is becoming more commonplace as mobile networks upgrade to 5G technology. The word is latency, which is the time it takes for your data to travel across the mobile network to its destination and back again to your device.

Fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks offer significantly lower latency than older technology, according to CNET. Latency for 3G networks often crept into the hundreds of milliseconds, while 4G networks currently offer a range of 30 to 70 milliseconds. The new 5G networks range from five to 20 milliseconds, but experts and industry groups hope to push that all the way down to a single millisecond in the future.



The lower latency could provide a huge boost to services that require ultra-fast response time, like telemedicine, augmented reality and self-driving cars. With almost instant latency, surgeons could perform procedures remotely using robotic surgical devices, while self-driving cars could communicate with instant response to prevent crashes. Mobile video games would also see a bump in response time between devices, leading to a faster-paced game for players.

5G networks offer significant benefits over older networks beyond just the improved latency. According to Forbes, 5G can transmit data as much as 10 times faster than older networks. And when a large number of mobile users cluster in one place, 5G networks are significantly less likely to experience those dreaded network slowdowns.

Of course, only 5G-compatible devices benefit from 5G network speed and latency, and according to PC Mag, only about 16 percent of Americans will have a 5G device by the end of 2021. If you're still carrying a 4G phone and it isn't yet time to upgrade, don't fret -- those devices will still work in upgraded networks and you'll even see a bump in speed.


This story was posted on 2021-12-04 16:22:00
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