Aug 26 2019

How Will 5G Networks Impact Smart Cities?

5G will enable smart cities to deploy more intelligent traffic management and public safety technologies.

After years of hype, 5G wireless networks are now live in cities across the United States. While it will take years for 5G coverage to become as ubiquitous as 4G LTE, the next generation of cellular technology promises to enable significant benefits in certain aspects of smart city deployments.

5G in smart cities will lead to more intelligent transportation and traffic applications and will also provide more bandwidth and greater network resources to first responders.

While 5G will not enhance every smart city application beyond what LTE currently provides, it will bring significant benefits to some and will enable a wider range of Internet of Things sensors and devices.

“The proliferation of the IoT and the impending development of 5G connectivity will open the floodgates for the first truly smart city,” Ian Watterson, CSG’s head of Americas and Asia-Pacific, tells ZDNet. “The major impediment to moving the smart city from the theoretical to the practical was the sheer speed and bandwidth to handle the amount of data generated by the IoT and process it in real time. This will be exemplified in everything from public transit to law enforcement.”

With an increasing number and type of IoT devices and advances in analytics and artificial intelligence, “5G will certainly inspire innovations and produce new solutions for cities at a scale not previously possible under earlier generations of mobile technology,” says Mark Zannoni, research director of smart cities and transportation at IDC Government Insights.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how 5G network slicing technology can benefit public safety. 

What Is 5G?

For starters, 5G means the fifth generation of cellular technology. 5G can deliver data speeds 10 to 100 times faster than LTE and cut latency to milliseconds. Latency is any kind of delay that happens in data communication over a network.

5G is designed for mobile networking, IoT and high-performance industrial control systems. As ZDNet notes, most people will use 5G devices the way they use 4G devices now, and 5G is currently best thought of as a continuation of 4G “under a new flag. Indeed, this stage of 5G is known as NSA (Non Stand Alone) as it will run alongside and interoperate with existing LTE networks. SA (Stand Alone) comes later.”

Zannoni says “5G will enable the scaling of existing and development of future smart city solutions given its ultrareliable low latency and higher data capacity and denser connections than LTE.” 

There are network innovations embedded into the 5G standard that make the next generation a “profound leap from LTE,” Zannoni says. 


The first is latency. LTE network latency is currently mostly between 50-100 milliseconds, Zannoni notes. “5G standards require a maximum latency of four milliseconds, and for many applications, latency is expected to be less than a millisecond,” he says. That means there will be very little network lag.

Data rates and throughput on 5G can be up to 100 times faster than on LTE. Speeds on AT&T’s 5G network in Dallas hit 1.3 Gigabits per second during April tests conducted by PC Magazine. Meanwhile, tests CNET performed in May on Verizon’s 5G network in Chicago produced download speeds of 1.3 Gbps.

5G also enables far greater network density. “While an LTE tower can handle around 2,000 simultaneous connections, 5G specifications call for a minimum of one million connections per square kilometer,” Zannoni says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: What are the bumps on the road to 5G deployment?

5G Applications in Smart Cities

Despite all the hype around 5G, Zannoni notes, many existing smart city applications do not require the high data speeds, ultralow latency and massive connection density of 5G. There’s only so much network bandwidth that is needed for smart trash collection or smart parking.

However, 5G enables a much higher number of IoT endpoints that cities can connect and coordinate via smart city platforms for real-time, citywide analyses or automation, according to Zannoni. “In the areas of transportation and public safety, though, 5G can have profound impacts,” he says.

In the transportation realm, 5G (as well as a competing standards known as dedicated short-range communications, or DSRC) will enable connected vehicles “to have real-time, actionable data based on all the other vehicles around it as well as on traffic and roadway conditions, and it is an essential element for autonomous vehicles and safe operations applicable to all users on the street,” Zannoni says.

Even for vehicles that are not autonomous but merely have 5G hotspots in them, 5G can enhance traffic safety. For example, Zannoni says, if a driver on highway moving 60 mph at night hits a patch of ice, “every millisecond counts to make the determination of ice based on sensors in the car and then to warn the following cars (and the highway maintenance department) of the situation for other parties to take appropriate action to avoid (or eliminate) the ice.”

5G can also enhance two-way communication between vehicles and infrastructure in the city for traffic and roadway information, safety alerts, tolling capabilities, and traffic signals and crosswalks, according to Zannoni.

Additionally, 5G can also help public safety agencies in smart cities. Zannoni notes that police departments are receiving an increasing amount of bandwidth-heavy media and data.

“As more cameras, audio sensors, and other IoT devices are being deployed, and with an increasing number of individuals with smartphones to capture images, audio, and video, the volume and types of data being sent are skyrocketing,” he says.

This increase “will overwhelm most existing public safety agencies’ capacity to use such information,” he says. If incoming video and other data are analyzed using AI or other tools in real time and integrated properly, he says, “the information can enhance situational awareness and operational responses, reducing emergency response times and improving event outcomes.” 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how intelligent transportation systems save cities money.

What 5G Infrastructure Is Needed in Smart Cities?

Wireless carriers are deploying 5G networks in new cities on a rolling basis. In late July, Verizon deployed 5G to parts of Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Washington, D.C., in addition to earlier launches in Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and Providence, R.I. Verizon plans to hit 30 cities by the end of the year.

AT&T has coverage in 20 cities, with 30 targeted by the end of the year, TomsGuide reports.

Sprint currently has 5G coverage in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City, Mo., with plans for coverage in nine cities by the end of the year.

T-Mobile has 5G running in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York City, and also plans to hit 30 cities by the end of the year.

As carriers roll out 5G networks, they need to deploy new radios and antennas that will work with the wireless spectrum they are using for 5G service. For example, as FierceWireless reports, “Sprint is using Massive MIMO radios from Ericsson. The radios use 64 transmitters/64 transceivers, support split-mode and are deployed on Sprint’s existing cell sites.”

Many carriers are using millimeter wave spectrum for 5G, which does not penetrate buildings nearly as well as the low-band spectrum (below 1 gigahertz) carriers are using for LTE. This requires more cells, including small cells, especially in dense urban environments.

Small cells are essentially larger cell towers broken up into smaller radio equipment and antennas, and are often placed on streetlights, the sides of buildings and utility poles. However, some cities, such as San Diego, have had to reconsider their antenna regulations in the face of criticism from residents that 5G small cells damage neighborhood aesthetics.

For traffic management, roadside units will need to be deployed (whether for 5G or DSRC), according to Zannoni. RSUs — radio antennas that provide wireless communications from roadside infrastructure to units on board vehicles — are also “expected to play a role for vehicle security credentialing and authentication,” according to Zannoni.

However, he says, cities now “lack the necessary funding and expertise to deploy RSUs” and cities must decide which communication protocol — 5G (C-V2X) or DSRC — to implement (if not both) to communicate with vehicles, and the vehicles must have the corresponding capability for communication.


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