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From Dial-Up to 5G: Data Speeds Faster Than Light

Thursday, October 10, 2019
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What if we lived in a world where you could travel to the moon faster than you could tie your shoes? If you’re over fifty-five, you probably remember what it truly took for a man to reach the moon. Armstrong’s televised first steps were an awe-inspiring experience for millions on earth. Our galaxy reshaped itself, suddenly more immediate and infinite than it ever was before. As the crowning moment of the 1960s, anything seemed possible. 

However, the build-up to that successful moon landing was lengthy and agonizing. Studded with knotty technical challenges, the death of a few astronauts, and years of visionary experimentation, the moon landing was a long-term endeavor. Once the astronauts of Apollo 11 took off, though, it only took three days to reach the moon. It used to take three months to cross the Atlantic Ocean. 

Our society has been transformed by speed. Each decade, we spend less and less time on activities that previously consumed minutes, days, or months. When was the last time you took a transatlantic flight? Flying from across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York City to Dublin, takes just under seven hours. However, that wasn’t always the case. Scholars and historians estimate that over 4.5 million Irish came to the United States during a one-hundred-year period. During most of that time, it took three months to travel from Dublin to New York City. Due to starvation and political turmoil in Ireland, leaving wasn’t a choice as much as a necessity. With that reality forced upon them, many Irish immigrants never saw their families again. Now, you can fly to Ireland and back in a single day, with time to spare. 

What about traveling across the country? It takes five-and-half hours to fly from Los Angeles to New York City on a nonstop flight. However, traveling that distance with a combination of traveling on foot and wagons pulled by oxen, it would take around six months to travel that distance. 

However, speed doesn’t only apply to travel. What about speed and technology? It doesn’t take long at all to load a web page with a good Internet connection. Searching something on the Internet yields millions of results in seconds. However, you might remember how long it took to search for something on dial-up Internet. If you were operating on dial-up today, it could take between two and five minutes to load popular sites like Amazon, CNN, or Target. Online shopping as we know it today would be an exercise in frustration. 

Dial-up Internet didn’t just popularize web browsing and make it user-friendly. It also transformed how the Internet was used. Streaming services like Netflix simply wouldn’t exist on dial-up. It would be impossible. Without online streaming, we’d still be tied to limited options at video rental stores. 

What about download speeds? Many apps are structured around the ability to rewatch content later, when it’s more convenient or when you’re without a WiFi connection. At the maximum speed of dial-up, it would take almost 9 days to download a two-hour movie. Of course, if the connection cut out or you reached a downloading cutoff, you’d have to start all over. By contrast, high-speed Internet connections could download that same movie in about a half-hour. 

To put our speed-time achievements in perspective, it used to take 6-7 months to travel from New York City to Los Angeles. The distance from New York City to Los Angeles is 2,789 miles. The distance from Earth to Pluto, at their closest point, is 2.66 billion miles apart. Scientists have sent an unmanned spacecraft that has covered that distance in nine-and-a-half years. 

When it comes to sending data from that unmanned spacecraft to Earth, it’s time-consuming. It takes 4.5 hours to send photos from the spacecraft’s location near Pluto, to scientists on Earth. For all the information to be sent back to earth, it took sixteen months total. In an age of instant downloads, this is a major delay. 

Since 1983, the technology industry has been rapidly accelerating when it comes to data. Even 1G, a painfully slow analog-based network generation, was better than initial information-sending methods. Moving from 1G to a currently veiled network generation, 5G, was a long process. The improvements between each generation were astronomical. Remember the question at the beginning of the article: what if you could travel to the moon in less time than it takes to tie your shoes? If you could travel at the speed of 5G, it would be possible. 

Traveling to the moon is almost too easy. Visiting the center of our solar system, the sun, is more challenging. At 92.96 million miles away, it’s impossible to visit the sun in real life because of extreme temperatures. However, at such a wild distance, it makes for easy comparison. If you remember 2G, it was the first digital cellular system. However, the next step up—3G—would make it feasible to reach the sun if you could travel at 3G’s speed. You could reach the sun in just two hours!

However, if you own an up-to-date phone, it operates on a 4G network. Traveling at that speed would take 56 minutes to reach the sun. You can send vast amounts of information through your cell phone at this speed. If you experienced other network generations, 4G itself is amazing. When it comes to the newest network generation, 5G, it will make your current phone look like a dinosaur in comparison. If you could travel to the sun at the speed of 5G, it would take 56 seconds. Covering 92.96 million miles in under a minute is the most astounding leap in data speeds yet. 

The anticipated speed of 5G is part of the reason that new phone models don’t seem as exciting anymore. If you miss the anticipation of Apple’s newest models—and are disappointed by mediocre updates, such as improved battery life—5G is what you’re looking for. Many companies that create personal technology devices are holding off on releasing new innovations. This is because if they create an amazing new model now, it will be obsolete as soon as 5G comes out. If you’re in the market for a new phone and can afford to hold off, it’s best to wait for 5G to arrive. Since man landed on the moon, our ability to travel through our solar system and send information has changed astronomically. When 5G arrives, it’ll revolutionize our ability to communicate like never before.

Sources

Byrd, D. (January, 2019). Ultima Thule Seen in Detail. EarthSky. Retrieved October, 2019 from: https://earthsky.org/space/new-horizons-encounter-ultima-thule-jan-1-2019

Chuang, F. (October, 2019.) Spacecraft. Planetary Science Institute. Retrieved October, 2019 from: https://www.psi.edu/epo/faq/spacecraft.html

Drake, N. (July, 2015.) Your Top 10 Questions About the Pluto Flyby Answered. National Geographic. Retrieved October, 2019 from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/07/150713-pluto-flyby-ten-questions-answered-space/#close

NASA. (October, 2019.) Solar System Exploration. Planets. Retrieved October, 2019 from: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/overview/

Plug Things In. (n.d.) Dial Up Versus High-Speed Internet. Retrieved October, 2019 from http://www.plugthingsin.com/internet/connection/dialup-vs-high-speed-internet/

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