The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications standards. It represents the next major evolution in mobile internet connectivity, engineered to radically enhance speed, responsiveness and capacity.

The dominant 1G to 4G networks powered global smartphone ubiquity over the last 20 years. But limitations have emerged in lagging data rates, device densities and reliability metrics. 5G aims to substantially upgrade all aspects of networking performance to expand functionality.

Leading 5G specifications call for peak download speeds reaching 20 Gbps, which is about 100 times faster than average 4G speeds today. This enables media-heavy applications with high bandwidth demands like streaming immersive video or multiplayer cloud gaming.

Also the underlying 5G infrastructure must support up to 1 million device connections per square kilometer with near instantaneous responsiveness. That level of connectivity can manage massive sensor networks required by innovations such as smart factories, autonomous vehicles and smart cities.

Such demanding capacity requires 5G networks to utilize a wider range of radio frequencies, densify infrastructure with smaller cells packing together like WiFi, and adopt redesigned waveforms and protocols optimized for speed. Operators are also increasingly deploying 5G specs for supercharging WiFi called 5G NR-U.

Early 5G rollouts focus on the higher speed specifications demanding line-of-sight connections to high frequencies. But subsequent releases will tune for better penetration through walls and non-line-of-sight operation by tapping lower bands below 6 GHz.

The global 5G market is projected to expand at nearly 50% annual growth, reaching around $250 billion per year by 2026. Leading applications like telehealth, industrial automation, smart retail and autonomous robotics are expected to flourish under 5G connectivity. Nonetheless, more proofs of concept demonstrating clear ROI are still needed to propel mainstream business adoption.

While foundational 5G networks are available in many urban areas worldwide, the infrastructure build-out and device upgrades needed for ubiquitous connectivity will continue gradually over this decade. The standard is also expected to evolve, with early 6G research underway even as 5G maturation extends mobility into exciting new territory.