The Next Wireless Revolution

by Randon Gettys
Greater Peoria Economic Development Council

5G represents a revolution in technologies that will alter the human experience.

The term “5G” is an abbreviation for the fifth generation of wireless connectivity. The first generation of wireless connectivity enabled mobile phone calls. The second generation brought us text messaging—and millennials rejoiced. The first iPhone was released on the 3G network, bringing content-rich apps like Twitter and Facebook into our pockets. And 4G LTE brought mobile broadband capable of real-time experiences like Waze, Netflix and Uber.

5G represents not only the next evolution of wireless connectivity, but a revolution in technologies that will alter the human experience. 

Peoria and 5G
In September 2018, AT&T published that it had successfully made “the world’s first wireless 5G data transfer over millimeter wave using standards-based, production equipment with a mobile form factor device.” In other words, the cutting-edge 5G wireless platform is now ready for real-world use. AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch had this to say: 

“Future smart factories and retailers, self-driving cars, untethered virtual and augmented realities, and other yet-to-be-discovered experiences will grow up on tomorrow’s 5G networks. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation.”

Readers of iBi will be interested, though perhaps not surprised, to know that Peoria technology businesses have already been working on four of the five use cases mentioned by Fuetsch. Access to the same connectivity as major metro areas will be critical for them to be competitive in the global marketplace of technology products and services. 

That is why it is imperative for Peoria to place high on the list of midsized and small metros that will get 5G networks sooner rather than later. 5G will come to Peoria, but we do not want to wait around for AT&T or Verizon to bless us. 

To that end, a small group of folks from Greater Peoria EDC, Bradley University, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and Peoria County have been investigating how we can get Peoria moved up the proverbial list. Through this process, we have made contacts with international hardware manufacturers, service providers, technical officials and bureaucrats across the state, and as many Peoria technology developers as possible to get across our message.

Infrastructure Overhaul
The conversations with service providers have been quite enlightening. We have learned that the 5G rollout will not be as simple as swapping 4G radios with 5G radios on existing cellphone towers. Although 5G waves can transfer data 10 to 40 times faster than 4G, they are smaller than 4G waves and cannot travel as far. The implications of this difference on the required infrastructure are massive. 

First, towers are out; poles are in. 5G “small cell” radios are much smaller than those things at the top of cellphone towers as we know them today. 5G small cells are about the size of a 1990s-style desktop computer. Because smaller waves deteriorate faster, these 5G small cells are going to be everywhere—on light poles and traffic poles, on telephone poles, and fixed to the sides of buildings. Where there is not a good place to put one, a new pole may be erected to make sure the 5G waves can get where they need to go. That’s the other thing about smaller waves: they cannot travel through mass like a 4G radio wave can.

Second, the 5G small cells require a fiber backhaul. So, more fiber will need to be installed to support them. This raises many important questions and considerations as to who will buy, install, maintain and monetize the new fiber. To what extent can it be integrated with existing fiber? Who owns all the existing fiber, and where is it? These are the questions we need to answer.

The Wild West
We can infer that 5G will require more ubiquitous hardware for its infrastructure. That infrastructure will, of course, be rather expensive to roll out at scale. (One Accenture estimate places the cost of 5G implementation in Peoria between $90 million and $100 million.) Some states have drafted legislation to address 5G implementation, but most have not. Let us not forget that local jurisdictions must also have their say. One consultant compares the current state of the 5G revolution to the Wild West. 

The entire 5G space is in constant flux. I would expect that, even by the time this publication hits mailboxes and inboxes, much will have changed already. (Between edits of this article, I’ve learned of a 5G satellite technology that I plan to look into.) One thing is for sure, though. We will do what we can to help Peoria move up the magic list. iBi

Randon Gettys is director of Startup Greater Peoria at the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.