5G: The Rundown for Broadband Providers

By now, you are most likely used to seeing “4G” in the top corner of your smartphone’s screen. 4G, the fourth generation of mobile internet technology, changed the way we use our phones forever. The apps that have been created for 4G are smart and incredible; we never could have imagined the capabilities they have. However, 4G has been around for several years now, and it is nearly time for something newer, stronger, and faster.

5G is a next generation mobile internet technology that promises to deliver faster download speeds, better connections, and wider coverage. 5G offers three major upgrades to its predecessor, 4G: minimal delay (low latency), long battery life, and high speeds. 4G downloads can reach 50 megabits per second, while 5G is able to operate at speeds that are 100 times faster (some sources say 1,000 times faster). No one knows what new companies and services 5G will inspire, just as no one could predict the amazing applications of 4G, such as Lyft and Snapchat.

The Race to 5G

The first 5G-ready smartphones won’t arrive until next year. This year’s efforts will be a mix of portable hotspots and fixed wireless—that is, using cellular networks to offer an alternative to wires for home broadband. The four major US carriers all plan to offer 5G mobile service in the first half of 2019, but they’re all taking a different approach.

AT&T is offering 5G-powered mobile hotspots in a dozen cities this year. Verizon plans 5G services in at least 5 cities this year (not for mobile phones, but for fixed wireless). Sprint is working on rolling out smartphone service in 9 US cities, and they are hoping to take advantage of some unique airwaves they own. Finally, T-Mobile plans to offer 5G smartphone service next year to customers in four major cities. By 2021, T-Mobile plans to provide speeds in excess of 100Mbit/s to two-thirds of the US population.

All of these companies are racing against each other as well as racing against other countries. Right now, there is a three-way game among the United States, China, and South Korea to get 5G networks up and running first. It seems that the U.S. will be first with 5G in a few places, but China will be first to bring 5G to everybody. The U.K. should certainly not be ignored either; Vodafone recently conducted a live holographic call using 5G. In addition to trying to be first, there is a fight over who will provide the technology to power the networks. The U.S. has security concerns about China and will not allow Huawei to provide gear to major US telecom firms.

Timeline

Gartner, Inc. developed a tool called the Hype Cycle to help understand how particular technologies are regarded in terms of the reality of expectations as compared to how the technology is used over time. The hype cycle consists of five phases: the technology trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disillusionment, the slope of enlightenment, and the plateau of productivity. 5G, according to Qualcomm Director of Product Marketing Sherif Hanna, is slightly past peak hype and we are on the way to the trough of disillusionment.

Hanna explained that there is some backlash due to the extreme hype around 5G. Some people are almost having an allergic reaction to it, saying 5G is all hype and no substance whatsoever. Hanna disagrees, but the critics make a valid point. 5G has not been substantiated yet, but everyone—including the government—is already so invested. The real question here is this: what is the timeline for 5G between where we are and the slope of enlightenment?

Although the four major carriers plan to offer 5G mobile service in the first half of next year, it will be a long time before 5G coverage is ubiquitous. By mid-2019, Sprint is promising always-connected 5G PCs on its network. By 2020-21, 5G will be delivering Internet of Things upgrades, supporting connected cars and other IoT devices. Deployment on cell towers has already begun. Deployment in urban areas is in the works. Application adoption will come last, most likely in a few years. While 5G will be impressive, it is far away from being available to consumers and we should keep that in perspective.

5G and Broadband Providers

According to analysts for Light Reading, 5G is soon to become the “largest existential threat” to broadband providers. Speedy fixed 5G services are going to take money from cable broadband. For example, T-Mobile plans to capture 10 million broadband subs by 2024, largely targeting cable’s footprint. Cable companies have historically refrained from competing against each other, so many US cities have just one provider. Comcast and Charter together provide broadband service to 68 million Americans. 5G will threaten their market share.

5G and IoT

4G helped launch the app revolution, and 5G will carry the torch. It will not only enrich experiences for existing applications but also enable new Internet of Things (IoT) use cases. 5G will mean faster data on phones but will also pave the way for billions of connected IoT devices. Applications built on underlying technologies such as augmented reality, VR, and AI will benefit from massive data pipes and ultra-low latency.

It is important to note that there are security concerns with the plethora of IoT devices that will run on 5G. There are already existing security concerns with current IoT devices because their creators favor low prices over strong security, making them easy picking for hackers. Today people secure these devices by buying additional products to monitor home-network traffic, but with 5G, many more devices will bypass that network and connect directly to the Internet. The issue isn’t one hacked IoT device, but the millions of controllable hijacked devices.

In many ways, 5G will make life easier and more convenient. One major benefit of 5G networks will be the use of delivery drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). People will be able to place their online orders from their mobile devices, pay less for shipping, and acquire their goods quickly, securely, and for a low cost. Drones already exist, but 5G will help coordinate large fleets of them, allowing them to fly safely and automatically avoid collisions with high buildings and other UAVs.

If you’re picturing the drones flying through a city, you are correct. There will still be limited access to rural areas due to limited 5G offerings. Many people are claiming that 5G will help close the Digital Divide in America. However, rural areas that currently have subpar broadband will most likely continue down that path. It simply costs too much in the eyes of the companies pushing 5G to build out all of this fiber infrastructure needed for 5G in rural America. Today approximately 24% of rural Americans are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and it will likely be a very long time before this is remedied.

5G’s First Adopters

5G’s first adopters will undoubtedly be heavy industries and not consumer brands. They will use 5G for its Internet of Things applications. Oil fields, for example, plan to use the technology to boost their collection of data from sensors. Industrial automation will benefit the most, at least in the beginning. Consumer applications, which will come later, will drive the majority of the bandwidth with video and gaming.

Mobile browsing is great these days, but surfing the web without a Wi-Fi connection leaves much to be desired. For example, it’s really hard to play Fortnite Mobile using a data plan. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr explained how 5G will essentially eliminate the need to be connected to Wi-Fi. This shift has massive ramifications for information accessibility, telecoms, telehealth, and, of course, mobile gaming. Carr went on to say, “They should be branding it as 5G, The Fortnite Network.” Certain Fortnite updates have been over 1GB and could take hours to download on 4G. At 10 Gbps, these updates could be downloaded in a minute and a half. 5G gives users the speed of wired, fiber-optic internet connections, minus the cords.

Gaming may not be your thing, but some form of streaming video probably is. Netflix streaming will be like never before, and you will have access to extremely high quality video conferencing. Surgeons could even operate remotely over the internet. 5G will make all of our devices smarter, but can it make our cities smarter too?

 Experts say that 5G networks will jumpstart the smart cities movement, which is aimed at making cities more sustainable and efficient. The vision for 5G is to enable cities to combine data and devices to reduce traffic, energy, improve communications, protect neighborhoods, and save time and money.

However, “5G and smart cities can only become a reality for all Americans if there is enough fiber infrastructure to support them,” wrote Lisa Youngers, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. This is true. In order to get the 5G, your devices still have to connect to a wired network; when they connect to the cell tower, the tower is connected to a landline network. The little antenna might be broadcasting, but when the signal comes back there’s a wire behind it.

5G is not comprised of a standalone new technology. Its disruptive nature comes from its ability to aggregate the power of new and existing networks, mobile, fixed, and wireless to create flexibility. Nearly all of the communication through 5G will still travel fiber in the ground or underwater. Only the very last part of the connection—from the handset to the tower—will be wireless. 4G and 5G cannot exist without the fiber that empowers them. Are you building services to support the towers that support 5G? You must in order to meet the demand of underlying connectivity for 5G. Ronin can help you plan, build, and run these services. Give us a call today at (303)-678-1844 or email us at hello@roninpbr.com.