This article originally appeared on Forbes by Steve Pociask.
Fifth-generation mobile wireless (5G) will soon be on its way. 5G supported devices will include cell phones, laptops, fax machines, security camera monitoring systems, some medical devices, traffic signals, factory floor robots and the other “connected” devices that make up the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The 5G standard will support at least a 20 gigabits per second (Gbps) downlink and a 10 Gbps uplink per mobile base station, shared amongst all users in a wireless cell. This new standard will secure speeds 10 to 100 times faster than typical fourth generation (4G) connections.
Early deployment of 5G services is expected to arrive in about a dozen cities during 2017, and electronics developers are collaborating on devices they hope will give them early mover advantage in the marketplace. A more complete statement of 5G mobile specifications has been released, but it needs more detail before providers commit the billions of dollars needed to deploy it everywhere. The Federal Communications Commission has started down the path of selecting which spectrum can be best devoted to 5G services, and some economic studies have documented the colossal impact that 5G may have on our economy within a few years.
The incoming 5G standard is designed to support up 2.6 million devices per square mile. Unlike with 4G, 5G runs on smaller antennas that can attach to lampposts, shortening the distance signals are transmitted. Today’s crude IoT devices run on slower mobile communications such 4G mobile wireless or on Wi-Fi. Softbank is planning to produce 1 trillion IoT chips within the next 20 years, an indication of 5G’s pending and explosive growth.
Self-driven vehicles will use a 5G connection for consumer communications, but not necessarily for navigation and collision avoidance. The mechanical spacing between vehicles and pedestrians and the honoring of traffic signs and signals may be done through reliance on Lidar. Lidar bounces pulses of laser-light off objects, measuring how much time each pulse takes to return. The resulting time delay indicates the distance to each encounter with the object. By placing these measurements into a grid, Lidar generates a plot of the distance and shape of remote objects, and Lidar can then navigate safely within the traffic flow. The choice of Lidar should be an advantage for 5G in terms of smart city applications.
Spectrum remains a challenge. The 5G standard calls for each cell to have between 100MHz and 1GHz of spectrum available to carry communications from the base station out to devices and from devices into the base station. Finding 100 MHz chunks of clear spectrum is almost impossible below 2.5GHz, but doable over 6GHz. The base stations can be connected back to switching hubs through landlines, probably fiber optics in urban areas, or through microwave spectrum in rural areas. Carriers have and continue to invest in urban dark fiber, anticipating the eventual need for 5G back haul capacity. The 5G specification itself calls for a per-user download speed of 100Mbps and upload speed of 50Mbps.
The higher upload and download speeds of 5G will expand our capacity to automate, to communicate in real time, to enjoy the impact of virtual presence and to extend our control to remote places and devices.
Since the early days of Internet connections, telemedicine has grown in scope and locations feasibly served with high quality medical attention. 5G will deepen the capabilities that are delivered to patients from remote physicians. We can expect an expansion of services “imported” from outside our neighborhood over 5G communications. The new high value services are likely to include trouble shooting for technical systems and devices, professional accounting and legal help, specialized education and remote operation of robots that are located here in the U.S.
Of course, the migration to 5G will require massive infrastructure spending and states need to reduce impediments to this investment. Accenture estimates U.S. operators alone could spend $275 billion over seven years to implement 5G. An economic study commissioned by Qualcomm found that the 5G value chain will generate up to $3.5 trillion in revenue in 2035 and support up to 22 million jobs. The study also predicted that up to $12 trillion in goods and services enabled by 5G could be produced in 2035, when the full economic benefit of 5G is expected to be realized worldwide across industries.
However, all these investments and economic benefits could run into regulatory delays and higher costs due to rights-of-way, encroachment and poll attachment fees and disputes. The question is not whether 5G can deliver as promised, but whether government will encourage its deployment for the benefit of consumers.
Telecommunications, in particular, Internet and mobile communications, have been a persistent engine for economic growth. 5G is not a revolution, just an evolution of that engine. Delivering on the 5G promise will require substantial investments and a spirit of cooperation from regulators, but the consumer benefits justify focusing on 5G’s success.