Why 5G Wireless Technology Is Buzzing in Las Vegas

We’re going to hear some big things about fifth-generation wireless technology at this week’s CES 2017 in Las Vegas. And 5G is a big deal. Indeed, there’ll be no IoT without it.


This type of innovation may not immediately change humanity forever or even save a life in the short term.

But it will allow us to download full-length feature films in seconds, rather than minutes.

And eventually, it will be the single most important development in the history of the Internet of Things.

I’m talking today about fifth-generation — or 5G — wireless technology.

It’s the dominant topic at the 50th annual Consumer Electronics Show, now underway in Las Vegas.

In the very near future, 5G will amaze with its speed and amuse with what it will deliver to our many connected devices.

It’s not a cure for cancer or an autonomous android, but sometimes convenient advancements are enough: You can, indeed, help make the world a better place by making the common folk a little bit happier.

And this jump in wireless speed is actually much more than merely incremental.

In 2015, Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) reported laboratory tests that produced download rates of 1 gigabit per second — about 30–50 times faster than its current state-of-the-art “long-term evolution” 4G technology.

Last February, a field test revealed a 5G connection of 3.77 gigabits per second, which is 377 times faster than 4G LTE.

This type of innovation may not immediately change humanity forever or even save a life in the short term.

And only yesterday, Bloomberg reported that AT&T Inc. (T) has hit an astounding 14 gigabits a second in the lab.

Theory puts the upper limit of 5G at about 100 times faster than 4G.

The industry also expects 5G deployments to result in lower costs for consumers. As Bloomberg’s Scott Moritz reports:

Through a collaboration with a dozen partners including Intel Corp., Ericsson AB, and Qualcomm Inc., AT&T plans to use experimental airwaves to test fifth-generation or 5G residential and business services as a potentially cheaper method than fiber-optic cable for high-capacity connections, said John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam sees his company’s “wireless fiber” 5G technology being deployed at roughly half the cost of its previous FiOS platform.

Now, that’s some serious happy talk. A better product at a cheaper price, from a group of companies notorious for nickeling-and-diming subscribers?

As my mom used to say when I asked for some fanciful new toy, “We’ll see.”

At the same time, the potential of 5G connectivity is enormous.

Indeed, it’s the type of enabling technology that will drive major advancements for autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles, including cars and airplanes, as well as streaming virtual reality and the Internet of Things.

It is the key to constant and ubiquitous connectivity.

Verizon and AT&T expect to move from lab and field tests to actual 5G deployments during 2017. In fact, AT&T’s DirecTV unit aims to use its technology to deliver DirecTV Now to customers in Austin, Texas, by this summer.

Indeed, it’s the type of enabling technology that will drive major advancements for autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles, including cars and airplanes, as well as streaming virtual reality and the Internet of Things.

Among the major hurdles to broad deployment are getting access to more radio spectrum and finding new ways to incorporate innovative antenna designs into 5G devices.

The former requires cooperation of the federal government, though in July 2016, the Federal Communications Commission did make available a big block of spectrum in bands higher than currently used (including 28 gigahertz, 37 gigahertz, and 39 gigahertz) specifically to spur development of 5G tech.

We’re going to need a lot more spectrum, however, based on the fact that deployment of 4G drove 4,000-fold growth in data traffic in the 10 years ended 2015.

Access to more spectrum will allow companies to move wireless traffic to higher-frequency bands that aren’t as crowded as those between 30 megahertz and 3 gigahertz, where 3G and 4G compete with radio and TV broadcasts.

It will amaze and amuse… and it might just be support the kind of Big Data-driven projects that change humanity forever and save many, many lives.

Antenna innovation is already happening, as Elena Malykhina of Scientific American reports:

New antenna designs by companies including telecommunications equipment maker Qualcomm will enable mobile devices to send and receive signals in higher-frequency ranges. Antenna size is inversely proportional to frequency size — higher-frequency signals require smaller antennas, says Mustafa Cenk Gursoy, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Syracuse University. As a result, device makers will be able to place multiple antennas throughout their 5G devices to improve reception and try to make up for millimeter waves’ weaker signal strength.

We still have to address the massive security problems inherent in the IoT. But the cavalry may be on the way, in the form of an add-on chip designed by Microchip Technology Inc. (MCHP) with the support of Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN).

Microchip describes the AWS-ECC508 as “the industry’s first end-to-end security solution for Internet of Things (IoT) devices that connect to the Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) cloud.”

Yes, right now it’s limited to those who connect with Amazon. But it does “bake in” security.

And 2017 might also be the year that quantum computing, like 5G, makes it out of the experimental phase and onto the market. Quantum computing, as we wrote in the October 31, 2016, Wall Street Daily, may be another step toward a “hack-proof network.”

Reports Davide Castelvecchi of Nature:

Computing giants Google and Microsoft recently hired a host of leading lights, and have set challenging goals for this year. Their ambition reflects a broader transition taking place at startups and academic research labs alike: to move from pure science toward engineering.

“People are really building things,” says Christopher Monroe, a physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park who co-founded the startup IonQ in 2015. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s no longer just research.”

The future is 5G. It is the force that will support the 20–200 billion devices expected to be connected to the internet by 2020.

It will amaze and amuse… and it might just be support the kind of Big Data-driven projects that do, indeed, change humanity forever and save many, many lives.


Money Quote

“Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

— Attributed to Edsger W. Dijkstra

Smart Investing,

David Dittman
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily

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