(TNS) — Verizon will soon launch 5G technology in Houston, though its initial focus won’t be on improving the performance of mobile devices.
Rather, the wireless provider is positioning itself to compete with Comcast and AT&T for streaming television, playing video games or telling Alexa to turn on the lights.
Verizon officials said Tuesday that they will introduce residential 5G broadband starting in the second half of this year, using radio signals, rather than copper or fiber cables, to provide internet and phone services to the home. Houston is the third city announced as part of a four-market plan that also includes Sacramento and Los Angeles, Calif.
“It really comes down to not wanting to be left out of the loop, and 5G is what allows them to not get cut off,” Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Anshel Sag said.
People spend much of their days on their smartphones, but once they get home they connect to Wi-Fi rather than use their data plan. The new 5G technology provides a cheaper opportunity for wireless providers to enter that broadband market.
Theoretically, 5G will be able to achieve speeds of tens of gigabits per second, though most companies talk initially about 1 Gbps to 2 Gbps speeds. While variables from weather to terrain to buildings can affect 5G performance, the new technology is still expected to be much faster than current cell service — LTE speeds are typically in the 10-to-150 megabits per second range — and could potentially outstrip even the fastest home broadband currently available.
It is expected to open up new applications, from truly high-end gaming on mobile devices to over-the-internet navigation for driverless cars.
“Historically, 2G, 3G and 4G have predominantly been for the consumers,” incoming CEO Hans Vestberg, currently Verizon’s chief technology officer, said Tuesday during a press conference in Houston. “5G has so many other facets.”
That will include mobile connectivity soon enough. Sag said smartphones must use globally compatible technology, and those standards were finalized at the end of last year. Devices with 5G capabilities should be available at the beginning of next year.
Verizon expects its 5G service to be available on mobile devices in mid- to late 2019.
“A lot of the 5G that you’re seeing today is not the same 5G that will be standardized around the world next year,” Sag said. “So because of that, (Verizon) went with pre-5G standards and … they’re able to essentially roll it out quicker.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner, joining the Verizon officials for a public announcement Tuesday, said 5G can help transform Houston into a smart city by, for example, enhancing the use of data to better control traffic flow and helping the city save money by operating smart street lights.
Turner said he also believes it will attract businesses wishing to take advantage of 5G for things such as improved 3D video and driverless vehicles.
“This will bring jobs, no question, to the city of Houston,” Turner said. “Quite frankly, it will bring companies to the city of Houston.”
He’s working with Verizon to ensure long underserved and under-resourced areas — including Acres Home, Gulfton, the Near Northside, Second Ward and Third Ward — will have access to this next digital revolution.
Verizon did not provide specifics on the cost of its residential 5G broadband or whether it would be competitive with Comcast and AT&T, Houston’s two largest home internet providers.
The 5G technology typically works by transmitting data over radio frequencies. A customer’s antenna then picks up the signal and sends it to a modem and router. From there, it works just like the more traditional broadband internet service.
Sprint previously named Houston as a city that will get its version of 5G. Transmitters and other infrastructure are being moved into place this year, with sales of 5G service beginning in 2019. The company recently announced a merger with T-Mobile, largely to “light up a broad and deep 5G network faster than either company could separately,” according to an April 29 news release.
Comcast, however, believes its fiber-optic network can stand up to the competition.
“In addition to more than 53,000 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the greater Houston area, we’ve offered Gig speeds to both residential and businesses since 2017 and have increased internet speeds 17 times in the past 17 years,” Comcast spokesman Michael Bybee said in an email. “From a competitive standpoint, we are very confident in our fiber network and in the products and services we deliver today.”
Sag, with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Verizon sold off much of its fiber business and stopped expanding because fiber was too expensive to deploy. The 5G technology will be more affordable.
“This gives them another opportunity to get more customers and to deliver at a more cost-effective price,” he said.
Bloomberg this week, citing a person familiar with the situation, reported Verizon could be seeking a partnership with Google or Apple to provide television when it launches 5G. A Verizon spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday.
Verizon has been working on the Houston 5G offering for more than a year, said Krista Bourne, Verizon market president for the south central U.S. Houston was one of 11 test cities, and local officials have been incredibly helpful in expediting the permitting process.
“5G will enable technology and solutions that we aren’t even thinking about today,” she said.
©2018 the Houston Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.