(Photo: Verizon Small Cell components. “Example of a small cell installation on a utility pole | Photo Courtesy of Verizon and the League of Oregon Cities)
I admit it, most advances in internet technology go right over my head. 5G? I didn’t even know what 4G really was until I started researching for this article.
I look at my phone and, if I’m not on a local Wi-Fi network, I’m on LTE. Wi-Fi I understand, LTE? Didn’t have a clue.
So let’s first define some of the acronyms which confuse the heck out of we neophytes.
Let’s start with 1G. Remember the mobile radio telephone that Detective Sonny Crockett used on Miami Vice in the 80’s? This was the first generation (thus 1G) of analog wireless cellular technology. And as strange as it may seem now — voice only — at a snail’s pace of ten kbps (kilobits per second, thousands of bits per second.)
Then in the early 90’s 2G wireless digital technology! Digitally encrypted text and picture messages — allowing the transfer of data that only the intended recipient could read (except maybe Putin…but apparently we weren’t aware of it back then). All at a blistering 100 kbps.
And then, in the late 90’s (sensing a ten-year introduction schedule here?) a dramatic speed upgrade to 3G wireless — ten Mbps! (Megabits per second, each megabit is equal to one million bits.) Wireless voice telephony, mobile internet access, fixed wireless internet access, video calls and mobile TV technologies were now possible.
4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) was introduced around 2008. It was designed to provide up to ten times the speeds of 3G networks for mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, netbooks, notebooks and wireless hotspots. At 100 Mbps, this is what most of us use on a daily basis when we’re not using a local Wi-Fi connection.
So you did the math. It’s been about ten years since 4G LTE was introduced. And guess what that means — it’s time for 5G!
But not so fast my now historically educated friend. 5G is big leap forward in wireless technology. Expected to be about ten times faster than 4G, 5G wireless will allow you to download a 3D movie in 30 seconds. On 4G it would take about six minutes. (Six minutes? Geez, that’s so 2008….)
5G is not the industry’s way of getting you to upgrade to a new phone. The technology industry absolutely has to adapt to the rapid proliferation of our “smart” devices.
Chris Sanford, Co-Founder and Lab Manager, Simplify Simple, Inc., Redmond, a technology services company, summed up the advent of 5G. “5G is a higher speed, lower latency technology — which means you’ll be able to pass multiple gigabytes of data at a time, rather than being limited to the megabit technology that we have today.”
Home sensors, thermostats, cars, robots, and many other new technologies will all connect to 5G one day — 4G networks just don’t have the bandwidth for the huge amount of data those devices will transmit.
And then Sanford added the buzz kill. “The majority of the devices that you have today won’t be operable with the 5G wireless technology,” he explained. “They will work on the 3G, 4G and LTE networks however.”
Great. Start budgeting now for that new iPhone folks. So when is 5G going to be available?
“By 2020 devices will start to be deployed and by mid-2020 we’re going to start seeing the devices really start to hit the markets — at a price that everybody will be able to afford,” said Sanford.
So what does all this have to do with little old Redmond, population about 30,000 and growing? Turns out a lot.
John Roberts, Deputy City Manager and Certified Planner since September 2018, says that Redmond is proactively preparing for 5G technology.
“About two years ago cities starting getting approached by wireless infrastructure providers to deploy 5G technology,” said Roberts. “Companies like Crown Castle that build infrastructure for the four major carriers here — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.”
Infrastructure providers are tasked with building the wireless networks that will support the gigabytes of data that all of us will rely on in the future. It’s not a matter of simply throwing a switch and the existing wireless networks are automatically upgraded to 5G.
We’re talking about the addition of “small cell” and “macro cell” antennas on existing light and utility poles, the sides of buildings and possibly in your future self-driving car (see the photo of a typical utility pole.)
Strategically-placed, 5G small cells will be anywhere from 30 to 60 feet high and will transmit the very high 5G frequencies from 250 to 750 feet.
It’s all about “densification.” The placement of the cells will be determined by the density, or demand for service, within an area. “In a block you could have one cell on a utility pole, one on a stop light and one on a light pole — it will all depend on what works best in that location,” explained Roberts.
So in the near future you’ll start to see these “cells” or antennas on light poles in your neighborhood and community. And from the sound of it…lots of them. (Remember there are four major carriers all vying for your service contract.)
Back to the City of Redmond. Roberts is tasked with coordinating all the internal departments that have to work together on deploying 5G, as well as working with the infrastructure providers and major carriers. Not an easy task.
“I’m working with our engineering, public works and right-of-way managers to come up with the application (for infrastructure companies), the review process and standards to evaluate this technology within the framework of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) guidelines we have,” explained Roberts.
Roberts is also keeping the Redmond City Council informed and engaged in this coordinated effort.
“Our council quickly realized that the necessary pieces of infrastructure are co-located on existing infrastructure (poles) — but you can’t co-locate the technology with each other because each wireless small cell has to be independently located — and with up to four wireless carriers with their own technology….it could mean each carrier wants their own poles,” said Roberts.
And then there’s the FCC. In September 2018 it came out with a declaratory ruling that “significantly limits state and local management of small wireless infrastructure deployment and associated fees for use of the rights of way” according to the NATAO (The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.)
The FCC rulings are slated to take effect January 14 2019 but local governments have until April 15 2019 to comply with the rulings.
The City of Redmond was charging ahead with their planning efforts for 5G — until that FCC ruling hit in September.
“About a year ago we started to work with the infrastructure providers but we had to put on the brakes because we knew the FCC guidelines were coming out sometime in 2018,” said Roberts. “The September 2018 guidelines were immediately appealed by many jurisdictions (cities) which caused jurisdictions to slow down their work.”
Undeterred, Roberts told the City Council that the goal is to have draft regulations in front of them no later than February 2019.
5G is coming on fast and Redmond is determined to be ready. The four major carriers are gearing-up, as are the infrastructure companies. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a carrier submit an application by early summer,” said Roberts.
And about those driverless cars and 5G wireless, Sanford has a prediction.
“It’s possible that you could have a mini cell in your vehicle that’s sending a carrier’s 5G signal further out — for other vehicles to use as well,” said Sanford. “The implications for self-driving cars are huge — if you’re reliant on this network to guide you and there’s no network traveling over the Santiam Pass, how can you be safe?”