When will America really get 5G?

Companies are harping on how amazing 5G will be, but when will it really be here to make a difference in the lives of everyday people?
27 July 2018

Sacramento, California is getting 5G this year. Source: Shutterstock

Everyone is reading about 5G or fifth-generation-wireless services in newspapers and magazines, and the narrative is always about how its introduction will transform mobile technology.

Truth be told, it really is quite an exciting technology. Not because it’ll help users surf the internet 10 to 20 times faster, but because it’s going to facilitate media-rich experiences that emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and the internet of things (IoT) make possible.

In fact, it seems as though without 5G, we won’t even be able to build the network of connected, driverless vehicles that GM, Waymo, Ford, and so many other innovators are working so hard to bring to life.

“Autonomous vehicles are like mobile mini data centers. The vehicles generate massive amounts of data and also need to take in large quantities of data from their surroundings to navigate and react to sudden changes. That’s where 5G comes in, expected to deliver faster speeds, ultralow latency, and vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity,” Intel’s ex-CEO Brian Krzanich said recently.

Obviously, America is anxiously waiting for the arrival of 5G to power its cities, turbocharge its businesses, and radically transform its customer experiences.

Which cities are getting 5G this year?

Well, it might have been difficult to keep a track of the cities that service providers have promised to bring 5G to this year, so here’s a roundup:

In June 2017, Verizon announced that it would bring 5G to Sacramento, California.

The Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to approve a public-private partnership with Verizon. The agreement was designed to increase public safety, support economic development, create jobs, bolster educational opportunities for Sacramento’s youth, and advance digital equality by offering free Wi-Fi access in many of the City’s public parks.

Then, in May this year, the company announced plans to deploy 5G in Los Angeles, and this month, it said it would launch in Houston.

AT&T too is working on bringing 5G connectivity to America this year and has an ambitious plan to deploy the infrastructure and network in a dozen cities this year.

So far, the company has announced the names of six of the 12 cities it will build out the technology in, namely Dallas, Atlanta, Waco, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Oklahoma City.

“In a global, interconnected economy, access to the most advanced technology is vital for creating jobs and driving economic growth that benefits everyone in a community. Access to 5G technology can make a genuine difference in the lives of families and help assure that Charlotte continues to be such a great place to live, work and play,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles at the time of the company’s announcement.

Other companies too are working on bringing 5G to America, but they might not be able to do it this year. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

No 5G for mobile phones?

Well, current phone antennas aren’t capable of tapping higher frequency radio bands that will be required for 5G.

This means existing phones capable of 4G and LTE communication are going to need an upgrade when 5G hits the market.

Just a few days ago, Qualcomm announced that it has been able to manufacture the first antenna module that will access millimeter wave signals and has provided production samples to customers.

The first commercial 5G NR mmWave antenna modules and sub-6 GHz RF modules for smartphones and other mobile devices represent a major milestone for the mobile industry. Source: Qualcomm

The company expects phones with the chips to hit the market early in 2019. That means end users can only benefit from 5G in 2019.

Of course, that shouldn’t stop businesses from developing experiences built on 5G to prepare for when customers are able to actually use it on their smartphones.

To survive in an increasingly competitive media-rich, mobile environment, companies need to leverage AR and virtual reality (VR) technologies, especially with headsets becoming lighter, cheaper, more accessible, and more practical.

Worldwide shipments for AR and VR headsets will grow to 68.9 million units in 2022 with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 52.5%, according to the latest forecast from IDC – and businesses should be prepared to provide the experiences through this medium in the future, enabled by 5G technology.