Time for a 5G update. I’ll probably do one of these every few months, now that things are beginning to move faster on the 5G front. There are a number of new announcements coming soon about the 5G standard, 5G networks and even the very first 5G devices.
Our previous 5G-related post discussed the expected capabilities of the future network and covered some of the hype that’s being generated. You can read it here.
The hype, of course, is only going to get worse. But meanwhile there is real 5G news happening.
What’s going on with 5G?
For example, Qualcomm announced earlier this year that it will partner with smartphone makers in China to roll out 5G networks beginning next year. That’s a very ambitious schedule, at least a year sooner than expected. Of course this is only an announcement. We’ll have to wait and see it they can actually deliver.
Much closer on the horizon is the anticipated announcment of a completed first-phase 5G standard by the 3GPP, or the Third Generation Partnership Project. That’s the global technology alliance that has spent the past two years trying to finalize the 5G mobile standard. The announcement is expected at the group’s June 2018 meeting in San Diego.
AT&T and Verizon have sought federal government permission to do 5G connectivity trials over the 28GHz frequency band. These will be fixed-site to fixed-site trials using a version of the 5G standard. Previous trials with this technology have demonstrated near-gigabit data speeds over distances of more than half a kilometer.
If you don’t know what ‘gigabit speeds’ are, that’s okay. It just means really, really fast data transfer.
How fast and at what range this tech could deliver true mobile services is not exactly clear. One reason for that – there are no 5G mobile devices yet to test with.
But that may be changing soon! Motorola, whose mobile phone business is now owned by Chinese manufacturer Lenovo, is rumored to be readying a 5G mod for its upcoming top-of-the line Moto phone.
The Moto line of handsets has various snap-on modules (mods) that add specialized features to the phone’s native capabilities. A 5G mod would make Moto the first 5G-capable phone available to consumers. Naturally, Moto owners would need a 5G network in order to make use of a 5G mod.
But there are a few reasons, at least, why we shouldn’t get caught up in all the hype-y 5G announcements.
Add politics to the list of obstacles 5G must navigate before it actually reaches consumers. Unlike previous generations of mobile communication standards, 5G will not rely on cell towers. Rather, 5G primarily will utilize small cells – devices roughly the size of a small microwave oven that will be attached to existing infrastructure like streetlights.
So what’s the problem? Well, all installation approvals in the U.S. are handled by local governments. Those local councils have historically based mobile network approvals on regulations designed to govern cell towers. The now out-of-date regulations could potentially make the 5G network approval process very slow.
Some pundits have suggested local governments may see the 5G network rollout as a revenue opportunity, and charge high fees for the necessary installation permits. Any such costs would, of course, be passed on to you and me.
In addition, local CBS television affiliates have recently broadcast news reports of health concerns related to 5G networks. The reports, short on specifics, cited anecdotal descriptions of “memory loss and confusion” near active 5G small cells that have been installed for technology trials like those described above.
There are currently no known direct health risks from mobile phones and networks. But if 5G service changes that fact, research won’t reveal the negative health trends until years from now.
But here’s something we do know. The higher-frequency radio waves that are proposed to carry 5G mobile communications don’t pass through obstacles as easily as the frequencies now carrying 4G LTE service. At those higher frequencies the shorter wavelength radio waves are blocked a lot more easily by things like the walls of your house, the leaves on trees in your front yard and by us – that is, by human bodies.
They also have a much shorter range than we’re used to with 4G frequencies. Some reseach indicates 5G waves may have a viable range of well under a mile. By constrast, 4G LTE waves commonly reach several miles, and under certain atmospheric conditions can stretch as far as 30 miles. That difference in signal range means we’ll likely have 5G small cells installed almost everywhere.
But hey, a number of industry observers and analysts say there’s no need to worry about all this stuff right now, because 5G devices and networks still won’t be available to most consumers for some years to come. Rather than the often-mentioned 2019 timeframe, they believe 2021 or even 2022 is more realistic for most of us to expect usable 5G cell service in our cities and towns.
One thing is certain – it will be interesting to watch it all happen. And of course we’ll keep you up to date right here.
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