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.


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.


Broadband Empowers Economic Growth and Quality of Life

The Council of Economic Advisors issued a brief to the White House detailing how broadband access helps Americans cross the digital divide. The digital divide is an economic and social inequality referring to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology. Presently broadband access is primarily confined to large, urban areas, leaving rural Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Bridging the digital divide means better access to educational tools, better healthcare, enhanced civic participation, and increasing the workforce. The labor pool for a rural community can grow significantly in two ways; rural citizens gain access to jobs they never had before, and people from other places can collaborate remotely with the rural residents online. The discrepancy between those who are online and those who are not is overwhelming. The latter cannot compete in the modern economy. Despite being considered one of the most advanced countries in the world by digital use, spending, and employment, the United States has significant room for improvement.

According to US Telecom, broadband enables at least 10 million new jobs in America alone. An often forgotten segment of the population, married women, saw an increase of 4.1% in their participation in the labor force with the introduction of broadband. Everyone benefits from broadband infrastructure, from individuals seeking job opportunities to nations building more self-sufficient communities.

The World Bank, seeing the impact of broadband on much of the world, has targeted broadband access as a tool for improving economics in the Middle East and North Africa. President Trump and the US should have the same goal in mind when it comes to infrastructure plans. We simply cannot be our greatest selves with 15% of our country isolated from the digital world.


Mayors Urge Trump Administration to Include Broadband in Infrastructure Investment Plans

Mayors and other elected community leaders representing 62 cities and counties this week urged President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to include broadband in infrastructure plans. The signatories represent nearly 16 million Americans. 17% of Americans and some 53% of rural Americans lack broadband access. The letter goes on to recommend three guiding principles that should be included in any federal infrastructure plan: promote broadband access, promote broadband affordability, and promote local solutions for broadband. Congress is working with the Trump administration to find common ground and follow through on Trump’s campaign promises to boost federal infrastructure investment.

Poor Broadband Causing Bipartisan Blues

As the Media Manager for Ronin Technology Advisors, my online presence must be maintained each and every day. All of the work I do happens on my laptop and requires reliable broadband. I am no outlier; remote working is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. A 2016 report by Global Workplace Analytics found 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency. This report is now a year old, and the number of remote workers has certainly grown.

In order for remote workers, students, and businesses to work and compete in our digital economy, broadband connectivity is a necessity like shelter and water. Poor or no broadband exists in many rural and inner city areas in the country even in 2017. For the first time, broadband funding is emerging as a bipartisan goal. This necessity drives both sides of the aisles into each other, allowing for collaboration on an important issue for everyone.

Senate Democrats recently unveiled an infrastructure blueprint that would allocate $20 billion in funding for high-speed broadband in underserved and unserved areas. While official agreements haven’t been made, Senate Republicans insist that these issues are top priority for them, too. Late last year, Google hosted a conference called “Transforming Communities: Broadband Goals for 2017 and Beyond.” The speakers included three members of the new Senate Broadband Caucus: one Republican, one Democrat, and one Independent.

President Trump has so far been pretty quiet about his broadband plans. However, it’s expected his plan will involve removing some of the regulations that have stymied high-speed internet investment. On January 31, 2017 a bipartisan coalition of 71 Representatives sent a letter to Trump urging him to include investments in rural broadband connectivity. With the Senate and the House of Representatives firmly devoted to broadband infrastructure, it will be hard for President Trump to ignore.

Trump Should Embrace Digital Infrastructure

          President-elect Trump’s administration has been discussing a large bill that would transform our country’s infrastructure. While everyone agrees this is good, there is some disagreement on what “infrastructure” actually means. A white paper by James Carlini from 2009 describes infrastructure as “The Platform for Commerce.” His definition of the Platform for Commerce includes all layers of infrastructure as they evolved over the last 5,000 years, including broadband connectivity and the Internet. Trump and his appointed task force should be discussing the entire Platform for Commerce before embarking on a strategic direction and committing funding for investment in infrastructure.

           U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) recently wrote a letter to Donald Trump’s administration urging them to include broadband deployment measures as a core component of any infrastructure proposals. In Capito’s home state of West Virginia, as many as 74% of rural residents lack proper access to broadband services that meet FCC benchmarks. The senator touched on an important note about being on the wrong side of the digital divide. West Virginia simply can’t attract and keep new business ventures if its residents are not connected through access to broadband. This does not just apply to West Virginia, but every rural community in the country. Broadband spurs job creation and economic development in every community that has it.

          In addition to broadband, infrastructure that integrates both physical and digital components will be critical to delivering the next wave of social and economic change. Yes, cars still drive on roads and planes fly in the air, but we are in an era where IT is being embedded into physical devices and structures—what is now being called hybrid digital infrastructure. Some examples of this digital infrastructure: Traffic lights with the ability to sense vehicles in real time and change signals, and water mains embedded with sensors to detect and transmit information on leaks.

          Smart infrastructure enables the easy collection and analysis of data. Digital/smart infrastructure will allow infrastructure to be used more efficiently. For example, smart traffic lights would improve traffic flows because cars would spend less time stuck at red lights. Additionally, data generated by digital infrastructure will allow providers to gain more accurate and timely insights about performance. Another benefit of digital infrastructure is that it makes it possible to gain insight into real-time conditions. Civil engineers can monitor structural changes in roads and bridges and perform preventive maintenance before there’s a major issue.

          How do we go about implementing hybrid digital infrastructure? Robert Atkinson suggests the next administration establishes a council for digital infrastructure made up of key officials from federal agencies involved in infrastructure. He believes they should meet regularly and develop strategies for advancing the transition to digital infrastructure in the areas they influence. To implement these strategic plans, the president should ensure that the first budget sent to Congress includes significant funding for the transition to digital infrastructure. How Trump is going to handle this new idea of infrastructure remains to be seen, but experts agree that it must become increasingly more digital and connected.

Smart Infrastructure Logical Top Priority for IoT

One issue that all political parties are able to agree on is the need for improvements of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Infrastructure in this instance is referring to roads, bridges, and broadband. Experts argue that the Internet of things is perfectly suited to the needs of a new information-based infrastructure. It can improve maintenance for things like bridges through built-in sensors that constantly monitor conditions.

Global economist Jeffrey Sachs argues for a long-term smart infrastructure initiative. He believes we need a plan based on three priorities to cope with our current national and global challenges. First, the infrastructure should be smart, deploying state-of-the-art information and communications technologies. Second, the infrastructure should be shared and accessible to all, whether as shared vehicles, open-access broadband in public areas, or shared green spaces in cities. Third, transport infrastructure should promote public health and environmental safety. The IoT, particularly because of its ability to let us share real-time data that, in turn, can regulate the infrastructure, is ideally suited to this challenge. It’s time for Congress to not only spend on infrastructure but to do so wisely.

The result will be not only the infrastructure we need, but also a more robust IoT industry in general.