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5G Networks: Making Smart Cities a Reality

The next generation of connectivity will play a huge role in enabling the Internet of Things, connected transit and other technologies as cities evolve.

The future of connectivity is closer than you think. 5G, the next iteration of wireless broadband, promises to offer high-speed, low-latency services, hailing networks that will enable the millions of sensors necessary for the rollout of the Internet of Things (IoT) across the country.

With its implementation, 5G will provide a “virtual cornerstone for critical 21st century opportunities related to economic growth, education, employment, transportation, and more,” according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

These networks will play a huge role in making smart cities possible.

“Autonomous vehicles will be controlled in the cloud. Smart-city energy grids, transportation networks, and water systems will be controlled in the cloud. Immersive education and entertainment will come from the cloud. Such futures, however, won’t come to pass unless the pathway to the cloud is low-latency, ultra-fast, and secure,” former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech last year, calling for speedier 5G deployment across the country in order to keep the U.S. the world leader in wireless communications.

Smart City Use Case: Unifying Connected Transit

Cities like Los Angeles have already introduced smart parking to make the best use of space. But the 10-gigabits-per-second network speeds that come along with 5G could enable vehicles to communicate with one another, allowing them to avoid collisions and provide road condition information to local governments, Forbes reports. Roger Lanctot, associate director for global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, tells Forbes that although 5G is currently in competition for the slot with dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), a Wi-Fi-based technology being tested by the U.S. government, 5G could provide a fiscally attractive solution that runs off of the existing wireless infrastructure; DSRC, on the other hand, would cost taxpayers money because roadside stations would have to be built nationwide

Dominique Bonte, an ABI Research vice president who follows automotive technology trends, tells Forbes she predicts 5G will allow a “broader range of communications” for vehicles.

“My take is that there is certainly a huge opportunity for 5G to become what I would call the unifying connectivity technology for cars,” she told Forbes, “as opposed to the more fragmented space where you see 4G used for infotainment, and DSRC pitched for [vehicle-to-vehicle].”

While true that 5G would still require an upgrade to cellular stations, Bonte notes that it could usher in commercial uses “including lifecycle management, enabling car manufacturers to update vehicle firmware wirelessly.”

So Where Do We Stand with 5G?

5G networks are on the horizon and the technology is already in the works. Verizon and AT&T are set to begin their rollout of the technology this year, with the first commercial deployments slated for 2020.

“I have seen 5G hardware and firmware; the technology is here,” the FCC’s Wheeler noted in his June speech.

To get the technology up and operating across the country, however, will take significant local government cooperation.

“5G will require many more antennas, and those antennas have to be hooked up to power and the rest of the Internet,” Doug Brake, telecom policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), told GovTech. “Building out all the 5G equipment and connectivity will have to be a cooperative endeavor with local governments if it is to truly flourish.”

To assist in this rollout, an ITIF report suggests that local governments should look to help streamline 5G infrastructure deployment.

“Wired backhaul connections and small-cell siting will be key to the dense wireless networks of tomorrow. Municipalities should view 5G deployment as a cooperative effort, bringing additional connectivity to improve citizens’ lives and enhancing government services,” the report notes.

Once the technology is up and running, Wheeler notes, governments should be aware that it will continue to require attention and upgrades.

“5G technology will be in constant evolution,” Wheeler noted. “It would be a mistake to think 5G can be frozen in a snapshot; it is more like a video with many new scenes, all building on each other. The systems and standards of 5G will be continually improving and evolving.”

jamesteohart/iStock/Thinkstock Photo
Feb 27 2017

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