5G phones and networks are here, but the features and effects are unclear

A cell tower is pictured in rural Ontario on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Amid much fanfare, Canada's Big 3 telecom companies introduced fifth-generation networks in major cities earlier this year and a few smartphones with 5G capabilities are now available for sale.Yet after years of promises about next-generation wireless powering self-driving cars and robotic surgery, it's still unclear exactly what the newly launched networks are currently able to do.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Three communities in the South Okanagan are among 50 across Canada in which Rogers Communications plans to offer 5G internet service by the end of the year.

The technology, which promises near-instantaneous speeds for downloading, uploading and streaming, has already been rolled out in Canada’s largest cities. The next tranche includes Penticton, Oliver and Osoyoos, plus Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops.

"We have plans to bring this everywhere, but of course, you have to start somewhere," said Kye Prigg, Rogers senior vice-president of access networks and operations, in an interview.

"You'll continue to see that evolving over the next few months. There'll be more and more markets added and more and more releases coming around this."

While telecommunications companies have long hyped the coming of 5G, most Canadians are still using networks from earlier generations.

Rogers is offering 5G to customers on its Infinite and unlimited business wireless plans for no charge until March 2021, but they must have 5G-ready devices.

So far Rogers' only compatible devices are the Samsung Galaxy's Note20 series, Z Flip 5G and S20 series, along with the Motorola Edge+ and LG Velvet.

"It's important to get the technology out there," said Prigg. "It'll become more and more mainstream as people upgrade their phones and so forth, so more people will get 5G-capable phones in their hands."

Rogers said users on the network will be treated to ultra-low latency, which is the lag between sending a request and the network responding. As 5G evolves, that time will drop to one millisecond — roughly 400 times faster than the blink of an eye — and will allow for a massive increase in the number of connected devices on a network.

Experts predict 5G will eventually power smart cities, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality innovations and devices that have yet to be invented.

The technology has, however, attracted its share of detractors, some of whom believe it poses an invisible hazard to their health, while others fear it will give governments new abilities to spy on them.

With files from the Canadian Press