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The Promise and Challenge of 5G

by Edward J. Katz and Stagg Newman, WNC Broadband Project

Everyone, from the business community to the casual broadband user, is excited about the advent of 5G technology. A recent CNN Business article notes many benefits for the coming transition, including 1) much higher speed; 2) much greater capacity) and 3) much lower latency. To achieve these benefits the article notes key challenges that will take many years to overcome:

  • This high performance, indeed, comes with deployment in “high-band” frequencies. High band frequencies, however, only go very short distances effectively and do not penetrate into buildings.
  • These 5G networks will, according to the article, require “tons more cell sites.” Quantitatively, in our region, that will be more than a 100-fold increase in cell sites.  
  • Many 5G networks today, such as T-Mobile’s, will be built on existing cell tower networks and will provide only a 20% improvement, not the huge improvements often hyped. Those advances only come with “tons more” cellular towers.

According to Stagg Newman, the Technical Advisor for the WNC Broadband Project, these new capacities are not as clear cut as they are often presented. For example, Newman observes, “high-band frequencies have not yet been allocated by regulators. The need to allocate resources and to build 100 times more cell sites means widely available 5G in our area will be many years in the future and require far more fiber to cell sites.” On the promise that 5G holds for the autonomous car revolution, he tells us, “do not believe that 5G deployment will be the key to self-driving vehicles. No public cellular network can meet the reliability needed for self-driving vehicles. Cellular always has coverage holes. Imagine your self-driving vehicle relied on 5G. You go around a corner, lose coverage, and crash. Self-driving vehicles may use cellular networks for ancillary support. They will, however, need to be autonomous of cellular for real-time operation like the prototype self-driving vehicles of today.”

To read more about “The Big Differences between 4G and 5G,” visit CNN Business.