i3 | September 23, 2020

A Tech to Watch The 5G Rollout

The excitement surrounding 5G is justified given its advanced capabilities, high speed, increased bandwidth and low latency that will inspire development of everything from massive numbers of IoT devices to smartphones to more complex solutions such as AR/VR and mixed reality that require significant computing capabilities on the edge of the network.

While it may not seem like 5G is deploying rapidly, 5G devices have already outpaced the launching of LTE products during the 4G rollout. However, the complexity of 5G and the availability of spectrum (or lack thereof) are key factors limiting the speed of 5G rollouts.

U.S. Carriers and 5G

Companies are using different parts of the spectrum to transmit 5G data, which is divided into three deployments: high-band (millimeter waves), mid-band, and low-band —all of which perform differently. For example, low-band 5G operates in frequencies below 2GHz. These signals go great distances, but the channels aren’t very wide. Low-band is relatively slow (for 5G). Mid-band 5G operates in the 2-10GHz range. With decent range from the towers of about half a mile, these networks carry the most 5G traffic. High-band 5G, or millimeter-wave (mmWave) uses airwaves in the 20-100GHz range. They’re short range with about 800-foot distances from towers.

Verizon has fast, high-band 5G in parts of 35 cities. Verizon’s issue is citywide coverage; its mmWave deployment relies on 28GHz spectrum, and one of the challenges with using high-band spectrum is that it does not cover a large area. Verizon’s system covers only about 15 million people across those cities, a small fraction of the U.S. population. Verizon is expanding throughout 2020.

AT&T has a low-band system, not the sports-car-quick version of 5G, covering a swath of about 160 million people, and a faster millimeter-wave high-band system in 35 cities. AT&T says it will be nationwide with 5G service later this summer. T-Mobile has a large network of low-band 5G across the country and plans to reach a total of 30 cities by yearend with its higher speed 28GHz mmWave coverage.

T-Mobile 5G’s expansion also includes sub-600MHz frequencies that reach much farther to provide for suburban and rural communities but deliver lower speeds.

Sprint opted for the middle (2.5GHz) band in 10 cities and complements T-Mobile’s high and low bands (the two companies merged in February).

As for cars, autonomous vehicles will interact with other cars and the infrastructure using vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology that allows connected vehicles to communicate with the traffic system around them. To do this, you need extremely low latencies, or time delays. The cars need to exchange information almost instantly and 5G offers sub-one-millisecond latency.

The biggest change 5G may bring is in virtual and augmented reality. As phones transform into devices meant to be used with VR headsets, the very low latency and high speeds of 5G will deliver an augmented world with additional information coming from the internet. The small cell aspects of 5G may help with in-building coverage, as home routers also become cell sites.

Safety Concerns

Low-band and mid-band 5G are on radio frequencies that have been used safely by UHF TV for decades. Studies of mmWave show that it doesn’t penetrate human skin well. Indeed, at commercial 5G levels research shows there’s no perceptible effect on people. In fact, the International Commission on NonIonizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) —a body that assesses the health risks of radio broadcasts —has declared 5G safe when operated within ICNIRP’s accepted guidelines. Remember that millimeter wave transmissions can be blocked by walls, glass, thick foliage and even clothing.

When can we expect 5G? Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon predicts there will be 200 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2020, and 2.8 billion 5G connections (phones and other connected devices) by 2025. Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon predicts there will be 200 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2020, and 2.8 billion 5G connections by 2025.

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