In the near future, faster internet is coming to a phone — and smart city — near you.
The 5th Generation mobile network, better known as 5G, is a wireless connection built specifically to keep up with the proliferation of devices requiring a mobile internet connection, like IoT devices, to run homes and city services. Starting this year, 5G will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors 4G and 3G to provide faster data speeds, higher data capacity, better coverage and lower latency times.
Not only will games and movie streaming get a boost, this capability will go a long way in enabling smart cities and devices. Home appliances, thermostats, door locks, security cameras, cars, wearables and many other previously offline devices beginning to connect to the web will work better with 5G.
4G LTE (LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution and is a souped-up version of 4G) has download speeds of between five and 12 megabit per second (Mbps) and upload speeds between two and five Mbps, with peak download speeds approaching 50 Mbps. 5G will increase download speeds up to three of four gigabit per second (Gbps), approaching a tenfold increase. By comparison, Google fiber offers speeds of one Gbps.
New wireless technologies also typically take over higher frequencies than traditional technologies because they have faster speeds. But those higher frequencies don’t travel as far, so network equipment has to be built up more densely to provide coverage. The spectrum that 5G will likely sit on is up to 6GHz, above 4G that occupies the frequency bands up to 20MHz.
Unlike other network upgrades, 5G will run on smaller antennas that can attach to lampposts, rather than building huge towers, shortening the distance signals are transmitted. While this system is seen as a less intensive since the equipment is lighter and modular, dealing with zoning issues can be problematic and building 5G infrastructure could end up costing U.S. operators up to $275 billion, according to a study by Accenture.
"In the early days of cellular, we were building taller towers,” said Sanyogita Shamsunder, director for network planning at Verizon. But now, "the architecture is changing.”
Verizon is leading the charge in the U.S. for testing out 5G. The company says it will start rolling out the service by the middle of the year in 11 test markets: Ann Arbor, Mich; Atlanta; Bernardsville, N.J.; Brockton, Mass.; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Miami; Sacramento; Seattle and Washington, D.C.
AT&T, for its part, has been testing 5G in labs and will also start testing 5G for delivery of its streaming service DirecTV Now in Austin, Texas.
Internationally, Ericsson conducted its first 5G demonstration in Indonesia, Sweden authorities are opening up spectrum for 5G testing, the United Kingdom is funding research into 5G and Chinese companies are figuring out how to share the cost of implementing a 5G network. The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, are scheduled to have 5G.
An economic study commissioned by Qualcomm found that the 5G could generate up to $3.5 trillion in revenue in 2035 and support up to 22 million jobs. The $275 billion that companies like Verizon and AT&T will spend on infrastructure could add 3 million jobs and boost the GDP by $500 billion.
How IoT will benefit
While the first 5G users will likely be using the new network at home, internet of things (IoT) devices will eventually be a major beneficiary. There are 6.4 billion IoT devices online, with that number expected to double by 2020.
Most IoT devices are not connected to one another. Bluetooth, RIFD and other short-range communications connect a device to its user or a computer. However for a smart city, a unified way to connect all the devices become important, such as having a speaking traffic light tell an autonomous bus the light is about to turn yellow, or a smart weather vane tell sprinklers that rain is coming. Wearables, smartphones, tablets and other devices with sensors that are location and context aware will work together with apps and services.
Autonomous vehicles will also benefit from 5G. The first generation of driverless cars won’t have a smart city infrastructure around them, but future generations will need to interact with other cars, lights and roads. 5G’s low latency times will make sure the communication happens quickly enough.
Previous networks like 3G, which had to worry about voice and some internet browsing, and 4G, which is increasingly powering streaming videos, did not have the same concerns.
“We had to improve our network to handle these devices,” Shamsunder said.
In the future, Shamsunder says Verizon might have to build new software and other applications that aren’t available on 4G network. For example, streaming virtual reality video will have different needs than a smart parking meter. Software could help manage different jobs of the network.
Most experts predict that 5G won’t be widely available until 2020. And, despite that, some businesses are already talking about 6G.