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The beginning of a new wireless era sparks excitement and anticipation as discussion of 5G moves from speculation to field tests, and reports of unbelievable transmission speeds continue to reach the public. While consumers won’t experience the arrival of 5G for another year or two, significant progress is being made and the roadmap to 5G is becoming more and more apparent. Carriers like Verizon are rumored to be accelerating their 5G testing and Qualcomm recently announced the completion of its first test of a 5G connection on a mobile device.

The stuff of science fiction will begin to take shape as advanced networks rumor instantaneous communication in a world of unlimited Internet of Things (IoT). However, there are roadblocks that mobile and network providers still need to overcome if consumers are expected to readily adopt the technology.

Standardization/Regulation

Experts predict that standardization within the telecommunications industry will be the largest challenge facing complete 5G adoption. Most cellular companies agree that a global standard will be necessary, but coming to an agreement on those criteria is another matter. Several network providers have been field-testing 5G technology in an effort to capture an early lead in network deployment. In the race to be first, carriers have pledged to offer pre-5G, which incorporates as many of the features of 5G as possible without actually qualifying as the new network. Until there’s a standard in place, anything “new” is basically just improved 4G, so don’t be fooled.

 

Telecommunication regulators play a large role in expanding the wireless spectrum to permit national testing and operation of the network, as well as ensuring a fair market to keep costs low for networks and consumers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is optimistic about the future of 5G wireless connectivity and wants the U.S. to lead the world in deployment. In 2016, Tom Wheeler, FCC chairman, noted three obstacles the FCC must address to usher in 5G. Along with opening the spectrum, Wheeler noted the need to improve 5G infrastructure to lower costs and maintain a fair market, and gaining local support to assist in siting for potentially millions of new antennas, a requirement to solve attenuation concerns.

Attenuation

The 5G network will deliver faster data speeds on frequency bands that are much higher than the frequency bands that are currently used today for 4G LTE. This raises two concerns: distance and penetration. Signals transmitted on higher frequency bands do not travel as far as or penetrate building materials as well as the lower frequency bands used today. Annoyances such as spotty coverage and inconsistent connectivity could be be accentuated. And the benefit of faster speed won’t mean a thing if you have to walk outside or stand right next to an antenna every time you’d like to use your phone or other mobile device. Carriers will likely install smaller base stations and use antenna technologies like MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) to ensure coverage. More towers will need to be constructed to cover the same area-- an expensive undertaking. An expense that cellular network providers could offset by increasing the cost of data plans.

Pricing/Availability

There are no mobile devices available in the market today that are compatible with 5G technologies. Consumers will need to buy a new phone – likely engineered with multiple internal antennas -- to take advantage of the improved wireless network. Most consumers understand the need to upgrade to a newer phone every couple of years, however, if the price to obtain a device or service plan is significantly higher than the current models, there could be a lag in adoption.

The distribution of cell towers will favor large urban areas over suburban and rural regions, so business professionals will be the first group to benefit from the network. Adoption will be a gradual process and largely depend on the development of towers and cell sites. A major benefit for rural and less populated areas is that the new network will drastically reduce slow network speeds caused by competition for bandwidth, but the struggle to obtain a connection will likely increase due to attenuation.

Although it won’t be a rapid plunge into a 5G future, the innovations made possible will change everything. Unbelievable data-transmission speeds and near-zero latency times will facilitate new tech advancements like self-driving cars and billions of IoT connected devices. The landscape to invention will be left to the imagination of the masses.

Hongtao Zhan is the founder and CEO of SureCall.

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