The fifth-generation cellular network rolling out in America and other countries this year will revolutionize the way our devices connect to the internet and to one another. 5G is such a technologically important leap forward–without it the future smart cities we dream about where everything is connected simply wouldn’t be possible.
However, there is one major–and unavoidable–drawback to 5G: It’s going to cost you your location privacy. Anyone with access to your ISP’s cell tower data will be able to hone in on your exact location far more precisely than they can today under our 4G networks. The reason for this is that 4G network technology has a wide coverage area when it comes to being broadcast from a single cellular tower. Matter of fact, 4G can be broadcast about a mile from a single tower.
5G network technology, on the other hand, has a much smaller coverage area, and it can’t penetrate through walls to get indoors as well as 4G technology can. This means 5G networks will require many more cellular towers placed closer together. These towers won’t be like the old towers you envision that look like electrified Eiffel Towers, mind you, they’re just small antennas that will need to be dotted around on rooftops and street lights and inside shopping malls and other buildings. But at the end of the day, dozens and dozens of 5G towers will need to be placed around an area that a single 4G tower would have covered in the past.
So how does this affect your location privacy? Each time your device connects to a tower, your mobile network knows you are within range of that tower. Under 4G networks, that means your mobile provider could pinpoint your location within about a mile’s accuracy–so your location was pretty well obfuscated. But since 5G towers will need to be everywhere and you’ll only connect to one 5G tower at a time, your mobile network will now be able to pinpoint your location much more accurately–even knowing which building you are in. On top of this, as you move through a city, your mobile network provider will be able to chart the path you take with a high degree of accuracy since your device will keep jumping from connecting to one nearest 5G tower to the next.