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For Many Consumers, 5G Remains an Unknown Quantity

While many cities have embraced the benefits of the next-generation network, others have pulled away for one reason or another. Many customers seem unaware of the benefits of 5G despite its current hype.

5G Box on Cell Tower
(TNS) — 5G, the next generation of cellular technology, offers a lot of potential to residents, business owners, and to city officials looking to make their city a competitive "smart city" in which to live. But right now, a lot of customers aren't aware of its potential advantages.

Today, 5G will bring customers higher quality telemedicine visits and less-glitchy virtual classes. Video downloads will take much less time. In the future, 5G might let residents find an open parking space before they arrive, or allow the Internet of Things, where appliances communicate directly with one another, to flourish.

In the Capital Region, 5G exists in select areas of Albany and Troy for AT&T customers. But there are dead zones in Newtonville, Loudonville, Melrose, as well as parts of Delmar and Bethlehem, according to an AT&T coverage map.

"At this point I wouldn't call it a very robust city-wide plan," said Chris Spencer, Albany's commissioner of planning and development. "It is really (in) its infancy."

In Troy, Schenectady, and Niskayuna, 5G is just getting started. City officials are in discussions with Verizon and hope to have 5G up and running soon, but no definitive timelines have been made public.

"There is a lot of hype with some of the devices on the market that are 5G compatible, but the networks are not necessarily there yet with 5G," said Schenectady Mayor Gary R. McCarthy. "You will see that in 12 months or 24 months down the road."

Customers buying a new 5G-compatible phone, can expect to experience faster downloading speeds and higher-quality videos, if they live in a neighborhood that has 5G already. If they live where 5G isn't yet, they probably won't even notice it. Their phone will continue to operate on 4G.

Apple and Samsung advertise their phones' 5G compatibility and providers like AT&T and Verizon promote 5G extensively, but some sales representatives in the area report that many customers aren't focused on getting 5G when they come in.

"Not that many people actually ask about the 5G," said Anthony Crossman, an AT&T sales representative. "We are usually the ones to bring it up because it is a new technology... a lot don't really know about it."

Residents in the Town of Niskayuna have been dissatisfied with their current communications services for years, said Niskayuna Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw, including high-speed Internet. "We've been begged for years to get Verizon to come to Niskayuna to offer Fios... we really felt was the logical, good, important step for a community like ours." Fios is Verizon's high-speed service delivered through fiber optic cables.

Despite 5G being regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and New York state law, city officials in Troy and Albany do have some power. They are working with providers to make sure 5G's "small cells" or "nodes" will be added on to existing infrastructure, and, if a new pole needs to be built, they make sure its location doesn't draw objections from residents.

"We want to make sure that all neighborhoods are getting access," Spencer said. "Our work right now is making sure we are not leaving the more economically depressed areas out."

Even though there is a long way to go to get cities fully covered with 5G, mayors are eager to continue the work, viewing it as an important piece for their cities' economic development.

"It is important for the city to keep up with 5G. It is a way we continue to attract the demographics that we do pull, whether it is the business world, or the residential and college world," said Troy Deputy Mayor Monica Kurzejeski.

©2020 the Times Union, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.