• By Lisa Brody

5G wireless’ future and community opposition


It became a national joke when former CBS anchor Dan Rather was assaulted in 1986, and the assailant asked Rather, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Today, as the world is battling for supremacy in technology, asking what's the frequency is no longer a joke – it's the connectivity which allows the world to operate, connect and compete. As almost everyone of us today has a smartphone – perhaps two, as well as internet access at home and work, and use computers, tablets, streaming services and cable, as well as a variety of constantly evolving technological innovations, the demand for wireless service continues to increase. Telecommunication companies all over the globe are in a fierce battle for supremacy of ultra-fast internet connections which can transform the way we access and utilize data, soon to be based in 5G wireless networks.

Yet, as these telecom companies convert their networks from one generation of technology to the next, local government leaders are finding themselves in a standoff with them over such issues as local control, over where new transmission devices can – and should – be placed, as well as the loss of large sums of revenue as legislation is passed around the country, including recently in Michigan, to cap the amount municipalities can charge for companies to install their devices on poles, antennas and other equipment.

If you're wondering what all the buzz is about 5G, you're not alone. Most of us don't know, and don't care, what network or system our devices are on, just as long as they work. 5G is considered the “fifth generation” of cellular network standards. It's designed to provide continuous high-density wireless service at a super-fast speed, without the delays or gaps that can sometimes occur in the current generation. If you've ever been watching Netflix, only to have it suddenly cut out and begin to spin as it resets, or discover as you're driving and find a phone call has dropped, that's because in the current fourth generation, or 4G, there could be some minor gap in service – in the “latency,” using industry parlance, which may be of a millisecond or more, but enough to stop the service and force it to reset.

Why is it such a big deal to improve upon what we have? After all, it's not really that big a hassle to have to call back, and Netflix (usually) comes right back on. But you and I aren't the real targets of the 5G upgrade. 5G, which is proclaimed to fundamentally transform cellular networks, is designed not just for our everyday wireless devices, but to provide for the seamless operations of autonomous vehicles, robotics working in factories, surgeons utilizing robotics as they perform precise operations, artificial intelligence, smart homes where appliances “speak” to one another, delivery drones, even unmanned military maneuvers. In each of these situations, and many others to come, the wireless delivery system cannot have a momentary blip – they can't just “cut out.”

Reliability is considered to be the hallmark of 5G, allowing networks to help power a huge rise in the “Internet of Things” technology – which is the forecasted technological advance – the next wave in the network of devices, vehicles and home appliances, including electronics, actuators and connectivity that will connect, interact and exchange data, permitting them to be remotely monitored and controlled. Imagine that Amazon Echo crossed with your Nest...and up their ability to remotely connect throughout your home from wherever you are. Yes, “The Jetsons” have arrived in your living room.

5G is focused on increased bandwidth – possibly up to a thousand times the current bandwidth per unit area, allowing for more devices to connect with those higher bandwidths for much longer durations. Its development is well underway, with initial launches planned to occur across the world in 2019, where it will work alongside existing 3G and 4G technology to allow us to stay online, no matter where we are in the world. It is expected to be launched in the United States, China and S. Korea by 2020, with the United Kingdom not far behind.

AT&T has announced they had begun providing 5G services in about 12 markets by the end of 2018, and they were continuing to work on advanced technologies to launch in about 24 metropolitan areas. By 2020, AT&T said it plans to reach 1.1 million locations with its fixed-wireless network. They said they had begun rolling out their Internet of Things (IoT) network by late 2017, in limited markets, which included Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In an ironic twist, Apple announced in early December 2018, that they would be sitting out the technology until at least 2020, so don't get excited to buy the latest iPhone to turn on your dishwasher from your office and begin operating a vehicle. According to Bloomberg, “Apple is taking a cue from an old playbook and waiting a year after its competitors launch 5G phones to offer it in its own device. The company reasons, according to the report, that waiting will allow all of the technical problems to get worked out and a larger market to form that it can take advantage of. Indeed, Apple used a similar tack with 3G and 4G technology and opted to wait a year or so after other handset makers offered the technology before it followed suit.”

Andy Choi, public relations manager for Verizon, said that so far Verizon has 5G service in homes in four cities – Indianapolis, Houston, Sacramento and Los Angeles, and expects to have mobile 5G service in 2019.

Choi does not have a timetable for Verizon's roll out for Michigan – but Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing does. He recently met with officials from Verizon, along with Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and state Rep. Mike Webber (R-Rochester, Rochester Hills), as well as with officials from AT&T, in order to hear their positions, “and so we could explain our concerns.

“Verizon is already at the stage of looking at communities and roll outs in waves,” Wing said. “They were already looking at it as if it was in the bag.”

“For us to hear back from customers, (we) hear back about speed, it's night and day – that it's a game changer,” Choi said. “The more that we connect ourselves with technology, the more there is an increase in infrastructure.”

As we look at 5G, we should look at how far we've come in a really short period of time. The first mode of mass wireless, 1G, was first introduced only 30-some years ago, in the 1980s. That iteration allowed us to make simple calls between mobile phones, with a data transfer speed of about .01 MB per second.

About a decade later, in 1991, 2G was introduced. Through its use of digital encryption versus analog signals, it provided greater security, as well as increased speed, at 3.1 MB per second. It transformed all of our methods of communications by allowing for regular, text-only SMS messages to be sent between regular, everyday users.

Just seven years later, in 1998, 3G came out and with it, the smartphone revolution. 3G allowed for mobile devices to be connected to the internet due to its higher speeds, which reached 14.4 MB per second.

The current standard came about in 2008, which is 4G/LTE. What was notable about 4G/LTE was a huge leap in speed to 300 MB per second, which has allowed for activities like gaming and high-definition media streaming.

5G offers the same fundamental features as its predecessors – cellular phone calls, text messaging, as well as internet connectivity – which is based and built upon the core of the 4G/LTE technology. The significant differences are bandwith, which is expected to reach up to 1 GB per second; decreased latency, or lags, which is expected to be less than a millisecond; energy efficiency; and greater network capacity.

According to cellular technology experts, it's all about the speed, whether to prevent interruptions in service to autonomous vehicles or for streaming services. Aman Grover, in the business and computer science department at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “to put it in perspective, a full 1080p HD movie is typically between 2 GB (gigabytes) to 3 GB. For potential applications like self-driving cars, which generate up to petabytes (1 million GB) of data at a time, this is a game changer.”

He also noted that 5G is forecasted to have tremendous energy efficiency. “5G will consume less power on devices, meaning longer battery lives, and perhaps by extension, less carbon waste from charging devices less often,” he explained. “With the rapid expansion of the Internet of Things, more and more devices are being designed for use on cellular networks, meaning that we need an infrastructural change to accommodate this (and future) demand.”

“One key goal of 5G is to dramatically improve the quality of service and extend that quality over a broader geographic area, in order for the wireless industry to remain competitive against the onset of gigabit fiber service coupled with WiFi,” said Scott Fulton III.

Comcast's Xfinity internet service is an example of gigabit fiber service.

Michael Watza, an attorney with Kitch Drutchas in Detroit who specializes in the telecom industry, does not believe the upgrades in the wireless industry rather than fiber has been a wise move for the industry.

“AT&T and Verizon, in particular, are deep in the wireless business, and that is not by accident,” Watza said. “They were initially in the wired business. They were encouraged to change their wired business to fiber, because everyone knew 30 years ago that they would need more access for this thing called the internet. Most of our global competitors built up fiber. They used their money instead to buy their competitors up – it was a money decision. We're now being sold as consumers that wireless is the solution to our consumer needs – it's not for data and information, because it's not compatible with fiber. It's okay with phones – but most people I trust say that you can't get the speed and access through wireless; you need fiber. This is a dodge to avoid the obligation to get fiber.”

Watza provides an example. “In 2015, in S. Korea, the students there got rid of all their text books and went all internet. All their homes were wired with fiber. All of Europe and Asia have invested in fiber.

“The analogy I make is (President) Eisenhower's investment in the U.S. highway system for trucking (in the 1950s),” Watza said. “The telecom industry has kept the feds, state and locals at bay, and have not allowed us to build up the information superhighway.”

“We throw around the phrase the 'fourth industrial revolution,'” Verizon's Choi said. “That's what we're on the cusp of. It's starting to blur the edge between the physical and the digital.”

Choi contradicts Watza. He noted, “With 5G, everything that can be connected, will be. There is low latency and extremely high speed, with continuous connectivity. It's how it will give constant connectivity to autonomous vehicles, robotics, biotechnology, A.I., where there is a need to provide data constantly and very quickly.

“We give the analogy, let's say you're on a congested highway that's not moving, and you can build three more lanes – that's what's happening with 5G. We're building additional lanes at higher speeds.”

Telecommunication companies would not be pushing as hard as they are, and spending the millions, perhaps billions, of dollars, to upgrade their systems to allow all of us to watch movies without our Netflix apps from pausing and having to upload more data to process. They're in a race with countries like China for artificial intelligence supremacy.

Artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems that are able to perform and accomplish tasks that normally would require human intelligence. It is simulated intelligence that is performed by a machine, whether by a robot, a vehicle, a drone, or another entity. But a computer-driven machine can only operate as a human if data is inputted into its system by humans – in other words, if the machines are programmed to think, act and decide as a human would.

In the United States, telecommunication companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and companies such as IBM and others involved with artificial intelligence (AI) development are leading the way. Yet in China, the Chinese government supports AI companies, financially and politically. According to the New York Times, Chinese start-ups made up one-third of the global computer vision market in 2017, surpassing the U.S., largely because the Chinese government and companies have access to huge amounts of data, primarily because they have feeble privacy laws and no real enforcement of those they have.

Another huge advantage that China has is the growth of data factories, set in remote areas of China where labor and office space are cheap and plentiful. Former assembly line workers now work in these “new age” factories, often set in vacant industrial parks, where workers sift through data to “tell” a computer that a bagel is not a donut, and that a black hat is different from a white shirt, while they're both clothing. The result can help an automated cashier scanning items identify objects correctly.

In the U.S., automobile companies are working via AI to create a smooth transition of information via 5G technology.

“For autonomous cars to really thrive, a completely seamless mobile experience is a must so that cars can stay constantly connected while driving,” noted Ludivic Lassauce, director at Tata Communications' UCC, Mobility and IoT Business Unit. “The challenge will be to design IT architecture between the edge and cloud that can be deployed globally, while still allowing for localized technology to cater for different regions. Coverage, reliability and scalability must be optimized...Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be used to analyze the huge amount of data generated by driverless cars and the urban infrastructure that supports them, including smart road signs and traffic lights. Autonomous car networks and all of these potential spin-off technologies will only be made possible by borderless and robust mobile connectivity that supports a completely seamless experience.”

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