5G Coming to a City Near You

Coming...not tomorrow, but soon.

by Eric Holdeman / October 14, 2018

It seems like we started with 3G and then moved to 4G about five years ago. Now we are on the cusp of the fielding of 5G service (which will likely cost more) for consumers. 5G promises much faster wireless connections for our increasingly mobile-hungry population of mobile device users. 

Wireless magic is generally unseen by the average cellphone user, but there is a physical difference that will be fielded with 5G — a whole new infrastructure. Instead of large cell towers scattered throughout a jurisdiction, there will likely be scores, if not hundreds, of small installations put on public infrastructure, such as light poles.

This then is causing an entirely new debate and FCC action on who pays, how much, and for what. To sum up the current actions underway, it sounds like national "price fixing." See this Governing magazine article FCC Sets Rules for 5G Infrastructure, Limiting State and Local Control.

Given the density of installations that will be needed, I don't see rural areas benefiting significantly with the current status of the technology. It just won't be cost effective for the companies since the public infrastructure and the fiber needed to make the system work doesn't exist "in the country" areas of our nation. There will be a bigger digital divide between urban and rural. 

What it means for you as emergency managers includes:

  • Be prepared to up your communications budget
  • With infrastructure on "lower/less disaster resilient poles," the wireless communications network may have more damages from wind events and that infrastructure being impacted by trees, etc.
  • The concept that cellphones/texting will be the first infrastructure to be restored may no longer be true in the future
  • For many of us, 4G will remain the standard for a long time to come, or until another technology jump occurs