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The race to build out “fiber in the sky” is on.
The next-gen mobile standard known as 5G, the fifth generation of the technology, is poised to create a new platform that is not just faster, but much more agile than today’s state-of-the-art 4G (also known as Long Term Evolution, or LTE) networks.
Expected to debut wide in the next two years, it’s the latest in the continuum of every innovation in wireless technology, and it promises to disrupt—if not complement—many industries with lightning-fast communication speeds.
5G will roll out as a network of cell sites offering gigabit-level speeds (100x faster than today’s highest speeds) over fiber lines, and lower latency (no more hourglass or spinning beachball icons!)
The technology will also underpin a vast array of fixed (non-mobile) and mobile devices, services, and applications across an array of industries, including entertainment, education, music, and medicine. Consumers need only a modem to connect.
But T-Mobile’s focus on the wide-area benefits of the 600 MHz band for its 5G rollout underscores a critical factor in the rollout of 5G: Not all spectrum is created equal. Millimeter wave signals don’t propagate well over long distances, have difficulty in the presence of trees and buildings, and require almost perfect line of sight.
“They hardly like air,” Robert Howald, Comcast’s vice president of network architecture, said at an industry event last year. He was making a joke, but he also makes an important point—it’s unlikely that any 5G strategy will be able to live successfully on millimeter wave spectrum alone.
There is much to be worked out, but 5G is poised to be a game-changer for anything streamed or downloaded.
Jeff Baumgartner is senior content producer—technology at Multichannel News.
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