All Hype or a Digital Revolution? Denver Prepares for 5G

Installing the new technology and the benefits that follow will generate $579 billion in economic impact and create 70,000 jobs in the metro area, industry representatives say. Others have their doubts.

by Aldo Svaldi, The Denver Post / October 4, 2019
Shutterstock/littlenySTOCK

(TNS) — When 5G — the next generation of wireless communications technology — arrives, it will revolutionize life as we know it. Or it won’t live up to the hype and disappoint. Or maybe a little bit of both.

“5G will be a game-changer,” said Nick Ludlum, chief communications officer with the CTIA, the trade group of the wireless industry.

5G is 100 times faster and can connect 100 times the number of devices as the existing 4G standard, he said during an introduction to the 5G Futures seminar, which the CTIA hosted on Thursday morning at the Oxford Hotel in Denver.

“Everything that can be connected will be connected,” said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics, and a panelist at the event.

Signals will move with fewer delays or latency, opening up entirely new possibilities for real-time applications.

Verizon Wireless, Starry and Dish Network are all rolling out or planning 5G systems in metro Denver, which is an early adopter and has taken a more open stance than some other cities.

Other carriers like AT&T are upgrading their networks to pave the way. Next year and the year after, 5G will increasingly become a part of people’s lives.

Installing the new technology and the benefits that follow will generate $579 billion in economic impact and create 70,000 jobs in metro Denver, Ludlum said.

It is still early days and not clear what faster speeds and more abundant data will mean. South Korea, which turned on 5G in April, already has had more than 3 million people sign up, said Tom Cullen, who is overseeing Dish Network’s effort to create a new 5G network from scratch.

And users in South Korea quickly started doing things that were too costly with 4G, such as putting on camera collars and live streaming the entire day to YouTube channels.

That may seem frivolous, but Entner said the ability of 5G to handle “volumetric video” will open new entertainment possibilities. Imagine putting on virtual reality goggles and watching a football game through a camera on the helmet of Joe Flacco or Von Miller. Or toggling through different game cameras from the comfort of a couch.

And for the gamblers out there, the technology will make live sports betting possible. Is Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic going to make that free throw? Put your money down before the ball leaves his hands.

And there will be more practical applications for consumers. Denver estimates that about a quarter of the miles driven downtown involve a hunt for a parking spot, said David Edinger, the city’s chief information officer.

What if a meter or an open spot could communicate via a sensor that it is available? And what if it could feed that information via 5G and an application could direct drivers to the open spots? That would ease congestion, save fuel and reduce air pollution.

5G reduces the battery drain on sensors, allowing them to last longer. The technology can also quickly move the massive river of data those sensors generate.

Edinger said one emergency vehicle responding to a call down Colorado or Federal boulevards after 3 p.m. will snarl traffic until 8 p.m. Just one call, and the commutes of thousands of people are delayed.

But what if sensors measuring traffic congestion could communicate to traffic signals across multiple intersections and adjust the timing?

“5G would allow traffic patterns to return to normal much faster,” he said.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who pushed the federal government in 2010 to release more wireless spectrum while working in the Obama administration, said 4G opened up new uses that people hadn’t imagined but now seem indispensable.

People can easily hail rides, find dates and make restaurant reservations on their mobile devices.

“The way we live is fundamentally different than a decade ago,” he said. He expects the same to occur with 5G.

Hype, lots of it, typically surrounds new technologies, and 5G is no exception. Edinger said 5G is on the upswing toward “unrealistic” expectations, which will be followed by the “trough of disillusionment.”

Self-driving vehicles, for example, are not coming anywhere as fast as touted, although 5G could help speed the process up.

Edinger said public complaints in Denver about the technology center on two areas, the aesthetics of the cellular equipment and the safety of wireless signals.

Carriers like Verizon are using a shorter and faster millimeter-wavelength, which can’t travel far. A lot more cell sites and antennas are needed, installed in places they weren’t before.

“We are hearing about that like crazy,” Edinger said. People don’t like having cellular equipment put up in plain view, and they are complaining.

Old concerns about cellular radiation have revived. Critics argue the impacts of constant exposure to high-frequency wavelengths haven’t been properly studied.

Proponents argue the existing research shows wireless technology is safe, but some officials argue public health agencies must monitor things closely should that not prove to be the case.

“We have to be driven by the data,” Weiser said.

Another source of disillusionment will come from the uneven experience that 5G will provide when compared to 4G, which is fairly consistent, Entner said.

Millimeter wavelengths, which Verizon is using, are super-fast, but they can’t penetrate concrete walls. Service could disappear after entering a home or building without 5G installed inside. “Hello, what’s the Wi-Fi password” may become the new way to greet people.

Carriers like T-Mobile and Dish will use lower frequency bandwidth, which provides greater reach into buildings, but in some cases at speeds that aren’t much better than 4G. Which might cause some to wonder what’s the point.

Nor is it clear yet whether application developers will jump on board as they did with 4G, said Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Apple and Google created platforms that encouraged developers to build new applications and bring them to the market, he said. Those innovations are what allowed 4G to transform people’s lives.

The sense is that 5G’s biggest benefits could come on the commercial and industrial side, Cullen said, as well as with civic uses, like smart cities.

And it could come in ways that people may not always realize, like a smoother commute home because the traffic signals are talking to each other, and they can sense your frustration.

©2019 The Denver Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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