Mobile and broadband communications are poised for a big step forward as 5th generation mobile wireless (5G) leaps into action. The industry has earned optimism from its experience with trials and from the impressive capabilities of 5G. Soon consumers will be able to take advantage of 5G.
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Verizon plans a commercial 5G rollout in the second half of 2018 and AT&T plans for 5G in a dozen cities by late 2018. Sprint is aiming at wide-scale 5G deployment in late 2019, and T-Mobile expects to have 5G country-wide in 2020.
Verizon and AT&T gained experience by conducting 5G trials in 2016 and 2017. Verizon ran 5G pilots in 11 markets supported by partnerships with Ericsson, Intel, Qualcomm and Samsung during mid-2017. AT&T conducted 5G trials in a half dozen cities during 2017, with Samsung, Intel, Nokia and Ericsson as partners. T-Mobile trialed a high speed, low latency version of 5G in 2016. Sprint had trialed 5G at a soccer tournament, also in 2016.
The expected uses of 5G are very broad. AT&T believes applications such as virtual reality, driverless cars and immersive 4K video will be popular and possible due to 5G’s higher speeds and ultra-low latency. Today’s applications in mobile voice and internet access will be supported for a far greater density of users in any geographic area. The high volume of users that 5G can simultaneously service in a small geographic area will make the Internet of Things (IoT) feasible.
High speed residential and small business broadband will be possible without cable or fiber optic connections. The 5G upgrades in communications experience should not require consumers to develop new technical savvy, but a 5G “New Radio” will be needed to connect your home modem into the 5G network.
The industry has shown a remarkable degree of collaboration among competitors. Common technical specifications for 5G have been under development for many years in the International 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). The 3GPP is a collaborative engineering effort by international telecom firms and equipment makers. Standardization helps manufacturers innovate in their equipment designs, but at the same time allows them to produce compatible products at a competitive price for consumers.
The capabilities of the 5G networks will better accommodate residential and commercial needs because of much higher speeds inherent in the amount of spectrum 5G will use. The FCC cooperated in the standards process and assigned some spectrum suitable for 5G networks. But to support a nationwide deployment, the FCC will need to extend its cooperation by auctioning more spectrum.
The technical specifications are impressive. 5G networks must be capable of downlink data rates of 20Gbps; uplink data rates of 10Gbps, downlink user-experienced data rates of 100 Mbps; and uplink user data rates of 50 Mbps. Even at those high speeds, 5G can service up to one million devices per square kilometer. Latency (the delay between when you ask for something and when it starts happening) will be 4 milliseconds, but latency can be as low as 1 millisecond for some specialized devices. 5G networks can maintain communications with high speed mobile vehicles running at 120 km to 500 km, accommodating traffic on interstate highways and perhaps even slow airplanes and helicopters.
The global wireless capital expenditure was $195 billion in 2015. 5G’s modularity and compatibility with the current 4G standard will allow for a relatively economic rollout, but with IoT, 5G will be a foundation for a market worth $1.9 trillion by 2026.