Broadband access ‘a win for rural North Carolina’

This article originally appeared on Blue Ridge Now by Maxim Tamarov.

Jones Senior High School senior Bryan Zavala spent a recent evening at Jones County Center, using the free internet there to work on stoichiometry problem sets for his college chemistry class.

Like many high school students living in rural areas across Eastern North Carolina, Zavala has been utilizing public WiFi to complete homework and study for exams because of the lack of high-speed internet at home.

Zavala, 17, takes five classes at Lenoir Community College and said he uses broadband to complete his work almost daily. From the outskirts of Trenton where Zavala lives, the nearest location with free WiFi access is about a 15-minute drive. When that is not available to him, he resorts to using his limited cell phone data plan.

“It’s very difficult to do it on a phone,” Zavala said of his assignments. “It makes the work much harder than usual.”

Students are just one of the demographics expected to benefit from the funding of high-speed broadband solutions for rural counties, following a bi-partisan vote earlier this month in the state legislature.

Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT)

Governor Roy Cooper signed the rural broadband mini-budget (H387) into law on Oct. 14, funding the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) broadband grant program at $15 million annually for 10 years. H387 ensures high-speed internet providers are matched by funds from the state in their building of broadband infrastructure.

According to Tiffany Gladney, policy and government affairs manager at the North Carolina Rural Center, the policy will fund counties such as Onslow — an expansion on the program that was introduced by N.C. Senator Harry Brown and N.C. Representative Dean Arp in 2017.

“We really salute the leaders across the aisle,” Gladney said of the mini-budget. “This is without a doubt a win for rural North Carolina.”

This comes on the heels of Cooper’s approval in May of nearly $10 million in GREAT grant funding for 14 companies to bring high-speed broadband access to 19 Tier 1 counties, according to the governor’s website. Jones County, for example, will receive service from Eastern Carolina Broadband (ECB).

Susan Myers, co-founder and CEO of ECB, said the Pink Hill-based provider already provides service in parts of Duplin and Lenoir counties and currently serves about 500 customers.

The company was founded two years ago, Myers said, “primarily as a social investment” to bring broadband to rural areas.

“Our community will fall behind if we don’t do it,” Myers said of the ECB rationale. “People need internet. They need it yesterday.”

Steve Goodson, Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation vice president of energy services, said it is generally easier for internet providers to work with electric co-ops because the latter already have infrastructure in place on which to lay fiber optic cables.

“If you’re a provider trying to get out to a rural area, you see electric poles out there as a benefit because it saves you construction costs,” Goodson said.

But the co-op is still only in the beginning stages of what might eventually be a broadband partnership. Only two providers have reached out to them so far.

ECB does not connect fiber optic cables to each home or use satellite, Myers explained. Instead, the company buys space on structures such as water towers and grain elevators in a desired area and from there beams down broadband to anyone within a four mile radius. ECB will also be using the emergency medical services (EMS) tower in Trenton for their Jones County broadband roll-out.

“We take the fiber optics and then we beam it from the water tower, which is a much more affordable way,” Myers said. “It would take 30 years to get fiber to every home.”

Myers said getting broadband to all of Jones County, a Tier 1 county, will take about two years.

The tier designation is set by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, according to the N.C. Commerce website, and ranks counties from Tier 1 to Tier 3 based on their unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth in population and adjusted property tax base per capita. Onslow, Carteret and Craven are all Tier 2 counties as of the 2019 rankings. Duplin, Jones and Lenoir are Tier 1 counties — meaning they are among the 40 most distressed counties in the state.

Myers said ECB will start to look at expanding into the rural areas of Onslow bordering Jones County once Jones is fully covered by high-speed internet.

Broadening the possibilities

Access to affordable, high-quality broadband opens up a lot of possibilities for rural populations, according to Gladney. Broadband allows residents to do homework and pursue degrees, receive telehealth, and open small businesses.

“In education today, a lot of classes are taught on the internet,” Brown, who represents Onslow and Jones counties, said. “It really disadvantages those students that don’t have access.”

According to Christy Torres, digital learning and teaching facilitator at White Oak High School, students rely on broadband access not only to do homework, but to research and to supplement their learning as well.

There are pockets of rural areas where some White Oak students live, according to Torres, such as on Deppe Road and out towards Maysville. Many of those students do not have the same access to the internet at home as some of their fellow students.

“I think it’s more (about) giving our students equitable access,” Torres said.

Onslow County Schools Executive Director of Community Affairs Brent Anderson explained these pockets are common not just to the White Oak jurisdiction but across the entire county.

While 17-year-old White Oak students De-Shauna Cruz and Attiyya Hasan-Hussein are not residents of a rural areas, they are examples of the kinds of lengths students have to resort to if they don’t have internet access at home.

Hasan-Hussein said she tries to download what she can at school and supplements this with her cell phone.

Cruz has been using a portable WiFi hotspot to connect to the internet and do homework assignments and group projects when she is not at school. Before she received a hotspot through the county’s Sprint 1 Million partnership, Cruz said she was restricted to using her phone as a hotspot. It was not a sustainable model, because her data plan, like Zavala’s, was not unlimited.

Currently, Torres said, White Oak partners with Sprint to give out portable WiFi devices to students who need access at home. But this is not the most effective solution, as those hotspots only work in Sprint coverage areas.

The Sprint initiative began with White Oak and Jacksonville High School, according to Anderson, but has since spread to every high school in the county.

For Cruz, the lack of reliable broadband access at home means she often had to stay late after classes to work on assignments. Sometimes, it means she has to go to friends’ house so she could use their WiFi. And occasionally, it means explaining to a teacher she was unable to complete an assignment on time because she was unable to connect to the internet.

“As an honors and A.P. student I don’t really like being late,” Cruz said. “It’s just not something I do. I like being on time or ahead.”

While there are ways for students to get done what they need to get done for school without online access, Torres said, broadband access is a vital tool in the modern-day learning toolkit.

“This is the generation that that’s how they learn,” Torres said. “From YouTube tutorials to researching online, Torres added, “It’s no longer them having to sit (in class) to get the information. They can get it online anytime when they want it.”

‘It’s about time’

Gladney explained the grant will act as an incentive for broadband providers to work with the state and offer services in areas they have been reluctant to offer service in the past.

“A lot of these internet service providers aren’t going out to these underserved areas because it doesn’t make sense for their business,” Gladney said.

Gladney explained that when John Coggan, former director of advocacy at the Rural Center, and Patrick Woodie, current president of the Rural Center, took a journey across the 80 rural counties in the state to ask leaders what mattered most to their constituents — broadband came up as an issue consistently.

Brown, too, said that he was inspired to work on the issue after hearing from his constituents.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people in my district who can’t get internet,” Brown said.

According to Torres, teachers at White Oak will continue doing what they can to provide their students with a level playing field. But as someone who has been following the rural broadband policy news, she said she is excited to see that broadband may soon be coming to Eastern North Carolina..

“It’s about time,” Torres said.

The 10 ways life would be different without broadband

This article originally appeared on Quartz by Justin Rohrlich.

Most of us think of the internet as existing “virtually,” yet cyberspace requires a physical infrastructure that is mostly hidden from view. And it requires workers to go under city streets to tie things together.

They run fiber-optic cables—incredibly thin strands of glass that carry the super-fast data signals providing high-speed internet, or “broadband,” service—and connect them underground to commercial buildings.

Electricians are the literal backbone of the broadband network most of us now use without giving it a second thought. The fiber they handle, under city streets and across the US, is why many of the things we take for granted today exist at all.

Legislation enacted in the late 1990s gave birth to upstarts that would introduce broadband to residential consumers. Although expensive at first, prices quickly began to drop. By the early 2000s, broadband started becoming an everyday service in homes.

As Om Malik noted in GigaOm a decade ago, the music-sharing platform Napster was really the catalyst for widespread broadband adoption in the US. Residential consumers started to sign up for high-speed internet provided by phone companies (DSL, or digital subscriber line, service) and cable companies. That’s when things changed forever.

In the years that followed, the high-speed internet created new industries while making certain others all but obsolete. Expedia and Priceline replaced travel agents. Online brokerages like E*Trade allowed people to be their own brokers. And buying music no longer meant a trip to the record store.

Lighted Bundle of Optical Fibers

Without broadband connections for our computers, phones, and appliances, there would be no Skype, Zoom GoToMeeting, or Bluejeans. We’d still be tethered to DVDs, CDs, and physical data storage. Balancing your checkbook would still be a routine household task, standing in line at the bank a regular event. Streaming music would not be possible; Columbia House’s mail-order music would still be an option for you. (It does still exist, believe it or not, but traffics only in DVDs these days.)

We should note that about 8% of the US population, or more than 24 million people—many in rural communities—still don’t have access to broadband service, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 24% of rural adults have a “major problem” accessing high-speed internet. Another 34% say its a “minor problem.” In total, 58%—six in 10—rural Americans have trouble accessing broadband.

Though it’s reportedly a good thing, on balance: A 2017 study by Ericsson found that doubling broadband speeds can increase a country’s GDP by 0.3%.

“This is not just about delivering connectivity for connectivity’s sake—or even about giving people access to the undoubted benefits of social communications,” Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, has said. “It is about leveraging the power of broadband technologies—and especially mobile technologies—to make the world a better place.”

Here’s a look at what broadband has brought to the world:

10 things that wouldn’t be the same without broadband

1. Driving

Tesla’s autopilot technology (introduced 2015) sends data to and from its vehicles via high-speed wireless connections, as well as using those networks to push out over-the-air software updates. Volkswagen (2018), Ford (2016), and Honda (2015) all make cloud-connected cars, which power everything from navigation services to collision-avoidance technology. A Verizon app called Hum (2015) aims to keep you “aware of your car’s health, [and] can send emergency services if it detects a crash.” Letting your insurance company track your driving can lead to savings for being safe on the road—but most Americans say it’s not worth the privacy tradeoff.

Market researchers estimate there will be more than 70 million connected vehicles on the road by 2023.

2. Watching

In order to “Netflix and chill,” (Netflix’s streaming service was introduced in 2007you’ll need a minimum internet connection speed of 0.5 Mbps (megabits per second). The lowest possible data speed that will allow access to Netflix is about double the speed of the fastest late-1990s DSL connections. Without broadband, there would be no Hulu (2008), no YouTube (2005), no streaming network TV—and you’d still be tethered to the cable company.

Worldwide streaming video subscriptions hit 613 million in 2018, up 27% from the year before.

3. Wandering

With the advent of Google Maps (and to a lesser degree, Apple Maps), it’s hard to get lost anymore. (Still, there is no signal at all in certain parts of the country, which is one reason why the American Automobile Association (AAA)  continues to provide paper maps to members.) Location services on other apps like Uber and Lyft bring drivers to your doorstep, and let friends see where you are at all times. You can also track your dog walker’s precise coordinates in real-time thanks to broadband, as well as monitor the turn-by-turn progress of your Amazon delivery driver.

About 155 million people use Google Maps each month. Apple Maps has roughly 23 million monthly users, by comparison. Yahoo! Maps boasts a comparatively paltry 2.8 million monthly users.

4. Playing

Without high-speed internet service—there would be no Playstation Now (2014), no Xbox Live (2002), no Fortnite (2017). Gaming console makers like Microsoft and Sony say their systems require at least 3 Mbps of download speed and 0.5 Mbps to 1 Mbps of upload speed.

As of March 2019, Fortnite had 250 million registered users. Playstation Now currently has about 700,000 subscribers, and Xbox Live, roughly 64 million.

5. Snooping (and planting and inspecting and delivering)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), more commonly known as drones, rely on broadband data links for a variety of functions, from scientific data collection to conducting faraway reconnaissance and military supply operations. Drones are now being used for package deliveries(2019), to inspect mines (2017), and by lifeguards (2018), farmers(2006), and animal advocates who fly mapping drones (2015) to locate strays.

There are more than 1.25 million drones in use in the United States alone, according to estimates by the Federal Aviation Administration. And while the market for non-commercial, or “hobby” drones, is cooling, the number of commercial drones used by businesses is expected to triple by 2023.

6. Learning

Primary and secondary classrooms went digital at least a decade ago, and the number of college students taking online courses has been on the rise for almost 15 years even as overall enrollment has fallen. There are now iPads built exclusively (2018) for student use, research universities backing digital ed startups (2019), and institutions like Harvard and MIT offering free courses online (2012).

There were an estimated 501 full-time K-12 online schools in the US during the 2017-2018 school year, serving nearly 300,000 students. Though critics say online schools do not serve young children as well as traditional schools.

7. Flying

Without high-speed data connections, we’d still be reading magazines on airplanes. Satellites supply the high-speed broadband signal that powers in-flight wifi (2007) and streaming TV (2015), as well as operational support to the aircraft and flight crew, maximizing fuel efficiency and helping to avoid bad weather.

A study from the London School of Economics and funded by satellite company Inmarsat estimates the “inflight connectivity” (IFC) market will be worth some $130 billion by 2035, contributing $30 billion to overall airline revenue. For comparison’s sake, IFC offerings contributed $900 million toward airline revenues in 2018.

8. Listening

In the days before broadband, a midnight urge to hear a certain song meant waiting until morning, then going to the record store to see if they had the album. A massive hit meant going platinum, or, selling a million copies. By comparison, Apple Music (2015) today has 60 million paying subscribers in the US. Globally, Spotify (2006) is number one, becoming the first streaming music service to hit 100 million paying subscribers, which the Swedish company announcedin early 2019.

9. Reading

E-readers (2004) mean never running out of things to read, even on vacation—something unthinkable back in the pre-broadband era. Still, the Amazon Kindle (2007) has not led to the extinction of the physical book. About 40% of Americans claim they continue to read exclusively print books, according to a 2018 Pew survey. Roughly 30% told Pew they read a mix of both, while only 7% say they read solely electronic formats.

10. Eating

Fridges that shop for you (2000). Ovens that cook for you (2003). “Smart” coffee mugs that maintain the perfect temperature (2017). These appliances use high-speed internet connections to access the cloud, which is how they receive commands and communicate with you.

Connected kitchen appliances haven’t really taken off, but online food delivery via apps like GrubHub (2011) and DoorDash (2013) are now part of a $17 billion market.

What may lie ahead

America’s mobile broadband network is currently in its fourth generation, with its present configuration known as 4G LTE. There is now a push to upgrade the nationwide backbone to 5G. Large increases in speed and capacity have the potential to help spur further innovation and deliver more services to consumers at lower prices—but not necessarily for everyone. Even then, only if significant investment is made by carriers.

While some like where this is all going, others say we should unplug (neo-Luddism is in fact having a resurgence). The healthiest place to be, most likely, lies somewhere in between those two extremes.

Of course, civilization somehow got along just fine for millennia without high-speed internet. And even today, roughly 10% of Americans say they don’t use the internet at all.


What will 5G mean for you? A reality check on the hype

This article originally appeared on Fast Company by Rob Pegoraro.

On Tuesday morning, the talks that opened the Mobile World Congress trade show in Los Angeles were Southern-California sunny about 5G wireless.

“It will revolutionize our lives,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of the wireless communications trade group CTIA, in a typical observation. The Washington trade group cosponsors this convention alongside GSMA, the London-based organization behind the much larger MWC show in Barcelona.

We’ve been hearing things like that about 5G for years. The next generation of wireless, so the sales pitch goes, will make the previously impossible possible. Think self-driving cars. Or robot surgery. Or perhaps even robot surgery in the back of self-driving cars.

But the resolutely optimistic remarks by opening keynote speakers such as Baker, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, U.S. Cellular CEO Kenneth R. Meyers, and Viacom president and CEO Robert Bakish also offered reminders of how far 5G has to go in some key areas.

SPOTTY COVERAGE

The first thing to know is that the fastest flavor of 5G is also the first to fade. Millimeter-wave 5G, the foundation of AT&T and Verizon’s early 5G deployment, can deliver download and upload speeds competitive with fiber-optic links. But that high-band spectrum can’t deliver them more than a block or two.

“We’ll just never get the coverage out of millimeter that we need if we’re really going to try to cover vast areas of this country,” U.S. Cellular’s Meyers told Baker.

But even 5G networks built on slower but longer-range mid- and low-band spectrum cover far less ground than 4G. I’ve seen this myself carrying a Sprint 5G review unit around Washington, D.C., where reception is a block-by-block proposition.

Baker, who noted that “I’m literally walking the streets of Washington, D.C with a 5G phone—two 5G phones, in fact,” has probably observed this too.

INFRASTRUCTURE HICCUPS

The keynote led off with remarks from L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti in which he bragged that “we’re going to be one of the first cities, big cities in the world to have a full 5G build-out here.”

How? “We made that easier for our providers by getting out of the way, cutting red tape, and then looking at the applications of 5G.”

That’s the flip side of limited 5G range: Millimeter-wave service will require an incredibly dense array of small cell sites, and not all cities and counties have welcomed it with the same enthusiasm as Los Angeles.

The FCC’s Pai has worked to override municipal-level obstacles and told MWCLA attendees that the U.S. will have “some 200,000” small cell sites deployed by this year. But that’s only a small fraction of what a nationwide 5G build-out could require.

In discussing the importance of ending the digital divide overall, Pai provided a useful comparison when he said: “It has an echo of the rural electrification of the 1930s and 1940s.” A 5G build-out probably won’t need decades, but it’s not something we’ll measure in months either.

Pai did, however, voice his confidence that the U.S. 5G build-out will proceed without fears over the security of the infrastructure itself—a nod to the concerns of the Trump administration and others over Huawei’s hardware, although neither he nor other MWCLA speakers dropped the H-bomb onstage.

“This is not an area where we can afford to take a risk and hope for the best,” Pai said.

INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS

Selling a 5G phone to the type of people in the room at MWCLA, or those who recognize that abbreviation at all, may not be hard. But what about people who think that today’s 4G LTE is already fast enough?

Viacom’s Bakish acknowledged that when he noted the progress of mobile video from quick YouTube clips to live streaming services that can replace TV subscriptions.

“We don’t actually have to wait for 5G to unlock the value of it,” he said. “The three key enablers of mobile video—connectivity, devices, and content—are all already in place.”So what does 5G add? Bakish suggested a future of augmented-reality interactivity routed to connected eyewear “no more intrusive than a pair of sunglasses.”Asked the same question, U.S. Cellular’s Meyers had a simpler answer: “The enablement.” As in, 5G will enable things we can’t imagine yet, but will appreciate when they arrive.In the meantime, stay focused on another application Bakish invoked in his remarks: plain old home broadband.“This massive gain in speed, reliability, and improved latency that 5G mobile networks will deliver will transform wireless broadband into a meaningful alternative to fixed fiber for Internet services into the home,” he said.

Yes, you might someday have an alternative to your cable company. But probably not as soon as you’d like.

Enlightening Insights On Why 5G Matters And Other Crucial High-Tech Topics: Steven Mollenkopf

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Steve Forbes.

Are we falling behind China on high-tech? How damaging are our trade disputes with Beijing? We hear a lot about 5G: What is it and what will it mean to us? Is AI—artificial intelligence—something to be feared? There’s no better person to discuss these and other critical issues than Steven Mollenkopf, the CEO of Qualcomm, one of the world’s most consequential and innovative companies. 

Qualcomm’s cutting edge breakthroughs have made possible the extraordinary advances in mobile devices and systems since its founding in the mid-1980s, and it is in the forefront of the whole 5G revolution. 

You will find Mollenkopf’s compelling insights and observations to be particularly timely—and reassuring.

U.S. 5G network tests show early growing pains – RootMetrics

This article originally appeared on FierceWireless by Bevin Fletcher.

n the early days of 5G launches, initial tests indicate U.S. carriers are experiencing some growing pains with inconsistent coverage and speeds, according IHS Markit’s RootMetrics latest report.

That’s not to be unexpected, as new technologies need time to mature and reach their potential, RootMetrics noted in its 5G First Look report. Still, tests in the U.S. cities of Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas show 5G availability and speed vary widely among the country’s four major carriers, and in terms of consistency, are well behind that of operators in South Korea.

“While there is justifiable excitement surrounding 5G, initial test results suggest that several early growing pains must be worked out,” wrote RootMetrics in its report.

Sprint was the only carrier that had a meaningful 5G footprint across all three U.S. test cities and maximum 5G download speeds all hit at around 200 Mbps. In Chicago, Sprint’s 5G median download speed was 123.5 Mbps, meaning a user could download a 600 MB video in about 40 seconds, compared to 3 minutes on LTE. However, results were mixed in Dallas where Sprint’s maximum 5G download speed of 196.7 Mbps was slower than 200.4 Mbps peak over 4G LTE, and its median 5G download in the city was an incredibly slow 1.2 Mbps.

“Our tests showed that Sprint’s 5G network in the downtown area of Dallas experienced network problems while using 5G for download tasks and/or transitioning between 5G and LTE, which likely impacted the carrier’s results,” RootMetrics wrote.

In terms of meaningful coverage, it’s not that surprising Sprint has more availability given it’s using 2.5 GHz spectrum, unlike high-band millimeter wave spectrum used by the other three carriers. Sprint’s sub-6 GHz spectrum is known to deliver enhanced speeds with more reliable coverage because signals can penetrate objects like buildings, while mmWave delivers super-fast speeds, but its range is very limited because of poor propagation characteristics.

Notably, testing found Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum had “remarkably similar” propagation as the 3.5 GHz spectrum used by South Korean operators KT, LG U+ and SK Telecom.

“This similarity in spectrum potentially portends good things for Sprint’s 5G network because speeds in South Korea were incredibly fast in general and much faster than what we found in the US,” wrote RootMetrics in its report.

Finding a 5G signal for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon across all three cities posed challenges, with 7.1% 5G availability for Verizon the highest found among those three carriers in the test cities. For T-Mobile and AT&T, 5G connections were available roughly 3% or less of the time. Atlanta was the best city for Sprint’s 5G availability, with a 5G connection slightly more than half of the time, while the carrier’s lowest availability, found in Dallas, was still nearly 25%.

Compare that to 5G availability rates for each South Korean operator ranging from 42.2% to 45.6%. Peak and median 5G speeds were also higher and more consistent across South Korean operators, with U.S. 5G deployments comparatively only “in their infancy”, according to RootMetrics.

It should be noted the U.S. test results were collected between late July and mid-August, shortly after 5G networks had officially launched, so continued improvements ahead are likely and already underway.

RootMetrics 5G graph

(RootMetrics)

On Verizon’s Chicago network, for example, 7.1% of tests were connected to 5G (compared to 32.2% for Sprint), but it still had the most mmWave 5G among all carriers. A Verizon representative in late September told FierceWireless that the carrier had doubled the number of mmWave 5G small cells in its Chicago market since launching there in April, which added density and capacity, as well as extended coverage.

Verizon also delivered the fastest maximum 5G download speed of 1.1 Gbps in the Chicago market, and it was the only carrier to hit about the 1 Gbps mark in any city.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, produced strong maximum 5G download speeds of 257.7 Mbps in Atlanta, but median speeds of only 20.9 Mbps. In Dallas, maximum 5G downloads clocked a measly 18.5 Mbps on T-Mobile’s network. However, those low figures could be a result of T-Mobile’s very limited 5G coverage, as RootMetrics noted tests in Dallas connected to 5G only 1.3% of the time and 3.1% of the time in Atlanta. Still, LTE performance in Dallas was strong, with maximum download speeds of 220.8 Mbps.

T-Mobile is using millimeter wave spectrum in initial launch cities, but like AT&T, has promised to roll out broader 5G coverage using sub-6 GHz spectrum.

As for AT&T, users can expect faster 5G speeds but only if they can find a signal. Median 5G download speeds in the city hit 256.1 Mbps, more than 13 times the speed of LTE downloads, while peak speeds were the second-fastest found and hit just under 670 Mbps. That said, RootMetrics could only connect to AT&T’s 5G network in Dallas 2.6% of the time, though the company was encouraged by excellent reliability and speed when 5G was available.

RootMetrics’ results are based on the company’s own drive testing and data collection, rather than user-initiated tests. Across the three cities this includes more than 20,500 samples collected, over 500 miles driven and about 40 indoor locations visited between late July and early August, testing on a range of devices including the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.

What is 5G today and what the future holds

This article originally appeared on ComputerWorld by Dave Altavilla.

If you ask the average person what they know about 5G technology, the first thing that will pop into their head will likely be something to do with cellphone technology. And if you consider the 2019 rollout of 5G thus far, perhaps that wouldn’t be too far off the mark. The average Jane or Joe would also likely recall that 5G is a faster follow-on technology to 4G LTE, and that wouldn’t be all that inaccurate either.

However, what 5G offers today, how it’s deployed and what the 5G landscape is going to look like in the next 2–3 years, will be vastly different. In fact, at the risk of using clichés, indeed 5G NR (New Radio) technology is poised to be “disruptive.” That said, this next generation of wireless network technology will also be an enabler across a myriad of industries and applications, and in all likelihood spur all-new use cases as well.

There are multiple different types of 5G technology that will be deployed by the various carriers, but in short, the technology is all about much larger slices of available spectrum and massive scale in capacity. The FCC defines 5G spectrum in four primary bands, Low-band between 600–900MHz, Mid-band between 2.5–4.2GHz also known as Sub-6, frequencies above 24GHz, otherwise known as millimeter Wave or mmWave, and finally what it calls Unlicensed spectrum, that can be accessed for a variety of dedicated uses including 5G. In terms of licensed spectrum, Low, Mid and mmWave bands will be deployed by various carriers, with T-Mobile and Sprint grabbing a large chunk of Low and Mid-bands for longer reach, and AT&T and Verizon claiming higher frequencies for higher speeds. Ultimately, all of these technologies will coexist with and require 4G networks to operate initially in a 5G NSA (Non-Stand-Alone) implementation, with standalone deployments coming later down the line. There’s a lot to digest and unpack here but what’s really important about 5G are its massive advancements in capacity, lower latency and throughput.

All 5G is not the same – Sub-6, mmWave and Unlicensed Spectrum

global 5g deployment map qualcomm

Without getting too deep into the weeds with respect to Low-band, Sub-6 and mmWave, at a high level, Low and Mid-band (Sub-6) 5G generally has longer reach and coverage, whereas mmWave offers higher capacity and faster multi-gigabit performance, but requires a denser population of cellular base deployment because its reach is only a few hundred meters and it has challenges with penetrating walls. The reality will be that the US will deploy a mix of 5G technologies with AT&T and Verizon driving mmWave deployments initially, while T-Mobile and Sprint appear to be driving low-band spectrum for a coverage play. Regardless, the other intrinsic benefit of 5G technology in general is latency. Where 4G can have ping times in the range of 25 – 50ms or so, 5G has the promise of single digit millisecond latency. And when it comes to next generation 5G applications, latency will be critical.

5G could enable smart city infrastructure and truly autonomous driving

Qualcomm specifically is on the forefront of 5G technologies, with end-to-end silicon solutions from 5G client handset devices like Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Note 10 series, to base station and fixed wireless customer premise solutions. I spent time with the company recently learning how 5G will quite literally reshape the high-speed broadband service industry for consumers and the enterprise. It will also help enable technology innovation that will require ultra-high capacity, low latency networks to be fully realized, for example smart city applications and autonomous vehicles. When you think of the city of the future, with a significant number of autonomous cars driving around, there are a number of wireless solutions that will need to be deployed to allow this futuristic vision to become a reality.

qualcomm 5g smart transportation example

Beyond just AI on edge devices for machine vision and machine learning, a myriad of IoT device technologies can all be integrated via 5G connectivity to enable safer, more efficient smart transportation services. Traffic signals that communicate with vehicles and vehicles that not only communicate with each other but to “everything” around them or (C-V2X, as Qualcomm likes to strap acronyms around everything), will allow safer autonomous vehicles and could, in theory at least, alleviate traffic congestion and minimize the possibility of an accident. I’ll believe the traffic benefits when I see them of course, having navigated far too often in Boston and New York gridlock, but you can see how “rubber-necking” could be a thing of the past, if your vehicle is being signaled to keep it moving. In short, C-V2X is one of the many applications that will help be enabled by 5G NR technologies, allowing vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication over a dedicated 5.9GHz spectrum network. Qualcomm has C-V2X chipsets solutionsalready available that are compatible with 5G technologies as well as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ASDA) sensors, as part of a platform solution.

5G fixed wireless will reshape the broadband ISP and services landscape

Another industry, beyond just faster smartphones, that 5G NR technologies will reshape will be residential and commercial broadband internet services. Especially in under-served areas that have issues with last mile connectivity and legacy cable/fiber internet operators, 5G technologies will enable wireless gigabit and multi-gigabit internet services in your home or office, without the need for WiFi, or in-conjunction with WiFi-6, and always-connected. 5G fixed wireless access is one of my favorite burgeoning areas of the new technology, as it will enable new levels of competition between carriers and ISPs, as well as new services with much lower latency, high speed connections for cloud computing, gaming and more. Gaming services like Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud and NVIDIA GeForce NOW will thrive when 5G fixed wireless access becomes a reality.

qualcomm fixed wireless example

5G fixed wireless applications will initially rely often on fiber broadband backhaul connections. The 5G tower will connect to legacy high-speed fiber networks that currently power the internet backbone, but then transmit to customer premise equipment over 5G Sub-6 and mmWave connections, wirelessly. Qualcomm is announcing today more than 30 global OEM partners like Linksys, Netgear, Nokia, OPPO and many others, that will deploy its Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF system in 5G fixed wireless CPE (customer premise equipment) devices to be deployed by major carriers. So now think about carriers like Verizon and AT&T that have both legacy fiber infrastructure and spectrum available, and you realize how quick the 5G rollout could be. In the next 2 – 3 years a whole new level of high speed 5G connectivity and competitive landscape will take shape, though you can be sure the subscription packages bundled with content and services will continue to evolve as well. Monetizing 5G services will be interesting or perhaps frightening to watch, depending on your perspective.

Regardless, as the 5G future takes shape, you can see the technology is much more than just enabling faster connections for smartphones. 5G quite literally has the potential to transform not only internet broadband service, but it will also enable new applications and use cases, from connected smart devices in the IoT, to autonomous vehicles, smart cities and connected factories; the list goes on. The word “disruptive,” in the case of 5G, is an understatement.

Google is working on 5G version of smartphone: report

This article originally appeared on MarketWatch by Jon Swartz.

Alphabet Inc. is working on a 5G version of its Pixel 4 smartphone, but don’t expect a sneak peek next week.

Google GOOGL, +1.03% GOOG, +1.05%  has scheduled a Pixel product event in New York on Oct. 15, where a version of the phone based on the superfast technology could be previewed, according to a report from Nikkei. (Google is expected to announce new smartphones, and potentially a new smartwatch and laptop at the event.)

But a first-look at 5G is unlikely since any news about the next-generation technology would undercut sales of the company’s current Pixel phones, according to a source familiar with Google’s strategy.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Regardless, Google will undoubtedly be the latest smartphone maker to join the 5G fray, probably in 2020, leaving Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.63%  as the last major vendor to announce its plans. Many expect Apple to unveil 5G-enabled iPhones in September 2020. 

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. 005930, +0.57%  and Huawei Technologies — the Nos. 1 and 2 smartphone makers in the world — have already released 5G phones.

If, and when, Apple gets into the 5G market, it is likely to create a big splash.

“We expect solid consumer interest in 5G phones at the premium end of the North American market, and Apple is well-positioned to drive an outsized share with its 2020 product cycle,” JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee wrote in a research note on Sept. 30. He projects Apple will sell 198 million iPhones in 2020 and 200 million in 2021.

Why you don’t need a 5G phone just yet

This article originally appeared on Denver Post by Anick Jesdanun.

NEW YORK — No 5G iPhone? No problem. You probably don’t want one anyway.

For most people, it’s smart to stick with a smartphone that isn’t compatible with speedier 5G wireless networks, which are just starting to roll out. That’s the case even if you think you’ll be hanging on to your next phone for a few years.

Not only are the first-generation 5G phones expensive, their antennas and modems typically work only with particular 5G networks owned by specific mobile carriers. That could limit your options if you’re trying to get the faster speeds while roaming overseas or on a rival company’s network — or if you decide to switch providers later.

Experts say second-generation phones in the coming year will address those and other shortcomings. The research firm IDC, calling 2019 “an introductory year at best,” expects 5G phones to make up 9% of worldwide shipments next year and 28% in 2023.

The target market

Samsung, Motorola, LG and OnePlus already make 5G phones that use Google’s Android system. Huawei announced one in September, though it’s missing popular Google apps because of a U.S. ban on tech exports to the Chinese company.

Although 5G phones are a niche product, IHS Markit said phone makers haven’t been able to keep up with surprisingly strong demand, especially in South Korea.

Samsung said it has sold 2 million 5G phones worldwide since April and expects to double that by the end of the year. Motorola said it has seen “tremendous engagement and excitement” from customers.

But Motorola said such first-generation products primarily suit early adopters who need to be first on the block.

The target market

Samsung, Motorola, LG and OnePlus already make 5G phones that use Google’s Android system. Huawei announced one in September, though it’s missing popular Google apps because of a U.S. ban on tech exports to the Chinese company.

Although 5G phones are a niche product, IHS Markit said phone makers haven’t been able to keep up with surprisingly strong demand, especially in South Korea.

Samsung said it has sold 2 million 5G phones worldwide since April and expects to double that by the end of the year. Motorola said it has seen “tremendous engagement and excitement” from customers.

But Motorola said such first-generation products primarily suit early adopters who need to be first on the block.

The Real 5G Winner Could Be China

This article originally appeared on Barron’s by Tae Kim.

The technology industry is counting on fifth-generation wireless, or 5G, to be the next big growth driver for all kinds of new products, from phones and chips to software and sensors. But 5G remains an amorphous idea, and the short-term beneficiaries are no longer quite so clear. 

The tech industry expects 5G to deliver speeds 10 to 40 times faster than current 4G LTE networks. Advocates expect its lower latency and data-rate capabilities to drive a new era of killer applications. But Wall Street analysts are suddenly questioning the payoff. 

This past week, Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall wrote that 5G wouldn’t offer much to consumers by 2020. That’s when Apple (ticker: AAPL) is widely expected to release its 5G-enabled iPhones. “5G is a brand, not a feature,” Hall wrote to clients. “We do not believe that 5G offers consumers much in the way of additional utility.” He thinks that other 2020 iPhone features—augmented reality, a new design, and an improved camera—will prove more important to consumers.

The dilemma is that most popular smartphone uses, including social media, video streaming, and games don’t require 5G’s capabilities. “Smartphone download speeds are already sufficient for even 4K video streaming, and latency decreases to one millisecond are not perceptible for humans,” Hall wrote.

KeyBanc Capital Markets recently cited weak Google search interest for 5G, at least relative to prior upgrade cycles around 3G and 4G. 

John Carmack, the chief technology officer at Oculus, Facebook’s (FB) virtual reality unit, recently said that the industry has a “tough marketing problem” in promoting 5G. Carmack was the mastermind behind programming some of the gaming industry’s biggest technical achievements, including Quake and Doom.

“They sort of got a problem of how to sell 5G,” Carmack said on an August podcast. “Fundamentally, it is just a bigger pipe…It should be this relatively boring thing. They need a way to make it sexy in some way.” Virtual reality is often cited as a selling point for the technology. The problem is that VR doesn’t require all that much in the way of real-time data transfer, so it’s not an ideal use for 5G. 

Amid all of the questions, chip maker Qualcomm (QCOM) sent its lead executive on 5G standards, Lorenzo Casaccia, to Barron’s offices this past week to talk about the technology’s evolution and the company’s excitement about its future.

He played down concerns as to whether 5G eventually would get the killer applications it needs to drive adoption. Before 4G, it was hard to foresee the success of Uber Technologies (UBER), Instagram, and Snapchat, he said. “I have no doubt people will figure out what to do with it. I don’t think human creativity will stop with Instagram and Snapchat,” Casaccia said. “With 5G everything is better: much better latency, higher data rates, and increased reliability.”

5G is coming together differently than earlier wireless standards. While the leap to 4G involved a fight between competing standards—LTE and WiMax—5G has already unified around one standards body known as 3GPP. Casaccia added that this ultimately should make the fifth-generation wireless transition cheaper and more efficient, with every hardware, software, and equipment maker on the same standard from the start.

The first big opportunity for 5G may be in corporate applications. Goldman’s Hall, for instance, remains optimistic about its benefits in the enterprise. “Reduced latency to levels usable by high-speed machinery and automated vehicles might also open up new revenue opportunities for the carriers,” he wrote. “IoT [internet of things] sensors reliant on batteries will gain lifespan, and automated cars also gain specific functionality, allowing for vehicle-to-vehicle communication.”

Even if the 5G opportunity takes more time to play out in the U.S., there is still a powerful near-term investment opportunity for the technology: Chinese infrastructure.

Multiple Wall Street analysts are getting more optimistic about China’s 5G buildout. For instance, Rosenblatt Securities notes that local governments in the Asian country are providing subsidies to “speed up 5G network deployments.” As a result, Rosenblatt says, more than 300 cities in China will have 5G networks by the end of next year. Even Hall, the Goldman Sachs 5G skeptic, expects 120 million 5G smartphones to ship next year, largely because of China’s aggressive buildout.

In a report this past week, Piper Jaffray analyst Harsh Kumar cited a Chinese think tank that sees China-based companies spending $411 billion on 5G networks from 2020 to 2030. Of the 600,000 5G base stations expected to be rolled out worldwide next year, Kumar says half will be deployed in China: “We expect 2020 global [5G] deployments to largely be driven by the Chinese market.” 

So what’s the best way to play the 5G ramp in China? The U.S. government has made American exposure to Huawei Technologies, China’s 5G leader, nearly impossible. U.S. companies are currently banned from sending parts to Huawei. 

The best way for U.S. investors to tap into China’s fifth-generation wireless explosion is through Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSM). The foundry makes many of the chips that Huawei uses in its 5G infrastructure products.

5G may come together slowly in the U.S. market, but China is serious about winning the race. Savvy investors can profit from the rivalry between the two giants.

Houston’s a player in the race for 5G dominance

This article originally appeared on Houston Chronicle by Dwight Silverman.

Houston has a reputation as one of the friendliest city halls in the nation among wireless companies building out the next generation of cellular data service known as 5G. But at a forum in downtown on Tuesday, industry and government leaders called for more communication between officials and companies, saying the race to beat China to 5G dominance depends on it.

The 5G Futures Houston conference focused on the promise of what the technologywhich has superfast uploads and downloads with very little delay, can bring to its users and the economy. But participants also sounded a space-race like warning of falling behind competing nations who want to beat the U.S. to the 5G punch.

Government and business leaders fear that investments, jobs and new industries will flow to the nation that builds 5G networks first, leaving those that fall behind in the economic dust.ital Access for as little as 95¢

“China sees in the transition to 5G to flip the script,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told the gathering at the Hotel Alessandra downtown. “They want to beat the U.S. to 5G and thus beat the U.S. in economic development.”

The conference was hosted by the CTIA, a Washington, D.C.-based wireless industry trade group, and the Center for Houston’s Future, a local think tank. It’s the first of several forums the CTIA will be conducting around the country as the 5G rollout ramps up.

In the United States, the four major wireless carriers are rushing to upgrade their networks, which use 4G wireless technology known as LTE, to handle 5G. Sprint has already launched a 5G mobile network in Houston, and Verizon last year began offering a 5G broadband service aimed at home users. A Houston couple was the first to be connected to Verizon’s 5G Home, and were hailed at the conference as the first commercial 5G customers in the nation.

AT&T has launched a 5G network here, but currently it’s only available to invited business customers. T-Mobile has not yet launched service in Houston, but has turned on 5G networks in a handful of other U.S. cities.

5G is actually a stew of different wireless technologies that work together to provide cellular data service that is many times faster than LTE. It also is supposed to have much lower latency, meaning it takes less time between for a device on a 5G network asking for data to get a response.

Proponents say this combination of speed and responsiveness will create new applications and services such as telemedicine and autonomous cars that can “talk” to each other — as well as applications that have yet to be imagined. It also is a key component in the drive toward so-called smart cities, in which sensors, fast connectivity and artificial intelligence combine to improve the quality of life in urban areas.

And 5G backers point to the growth of entire industries that arose due to 4G — from smartphone app development to the so-called “gig economy” to online dating — as evidence that 5G can have a greater, and even more disruptive, impact.

One component of 5G is higher-frequency radio waves capable of carrying data at much faster speeds. Known as millimeter wave, they require many more cell-site transmitters than exist, and that they be placed close together to provide adequare coverage. That has challenged the permitting processes of municipalities, which must approve towers and transmission boxes along public rights of way.

“Those permitting departments have to work with every other carrier, and their workload has grown – tripled and quadrupled,” said Majid Khan, a managing diretor with Verizon, said during a panel discussion. Khan applauded Houston for how well it has supported the 5G buildout, but called for more more “communication and collaboration” between public and private entities.

Last year, the FCC stripped municipalities of many of their powers to control the placement of cellular equipment, citing the need to streamline the 5G buildout process. That ruling – which Carr described Tuesday as “getting the government out of the way” – is being challenged in court by two dozen cities. Houston is not one of them.

Both Carr and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who also spoke at the conference, warned about the dangers of China becoming the dominant player in 5G. Cruz said money, new jobs and wireless infrastructure will favor the winner of a 5G race.

“China has outspent us by $24 billion in wireless communication infrastructure,” Cruz said. “They have built 350,000 new cell sites, while the U.S. has built only 30,000 sites.”

But not everyone agrees that China beating the U.S. in a 5G race would be so dire. Atlanta-based wireless industry analyst Jeff Kagan argued, “You don’t have to be first to be a leader.”

“The United States is going to be a significant player no matter what in the world of 5G, just as we were 4G, 3G, 2G and going back through the decades,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether we are second or third, except for ego.”