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Apple is working on super-fast 5G for next-generation iPhones

Apple 5G on the iPhone 8

Apple has received a permit to test millimeter-wave 5G technology in two locations near the company’s HQ in California. Apple isn’t the first to trial 5G — it joins a growing list of telecoms and device manufacturers dabbling in next-gen communications — but there is only one iPhone manufacturer.

Apple applied for the experimental permit earlier this year, with the stated goal of “to assess cellular link performance in direct path and multipath environments between base station transmitters and receivers using this spectrum. These assessments will provide engineering data relevant to the operation of devices on wireless carriers’ future 5G networks.”

It doesn’t take a microscope to read between those lines: Apple wants to make devices that will work on ‘future 5G networks,’ which basically means a 5G iPhone is in the works.

The most interesting thing from the permit is actually the type of 5G Apple is trialing. The 5G standard is not yet defined, but it’s likely to include a mix of low and mid-band spectrum — like what’s used in cell networks today — along with much higher-band millimeter-wave spectrum for faster communications in built-up areas. Millimeter-wave tech works over a much smaller area than traditional cell, but it promises easily-achievable gigabit speeds and nearly zero latency.

That kind of instant communications opens up all sorts of possibilities. Verizon recently conducted a test using 5G to drive a racecar through a VR headset; Apple’s been dabbling heavily in augmented reality, and 5G could open up all sorts of possibilities there.

But for now, it seems that Apple’s main aim is just to get a 5G cellphone up and running. It’s not really a surprise that Apple is working on 5G, as that’s clearly where the smartphone industry is heading. But it is encouraging to see actual tests happening in the US, which means effective 5G rollout could be closer than we think.