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The need for speed: Verizon's 5G wireless network could have dramatic effect on internet infrastructure

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In HBO's comedy series “Silicon Valley,” a billionaire CEO showcases his new holographic-teleconferencing software as an example of the incredible innovation at the disposal of his company. During the demonstration, the hologram gets interrupted and the call starts to drop.

That’s just the start.

Disappointed, but committed to finishing his call, he switches to regular video chat. The video call requires far less bandwidth to transmit data, but the call still stutters and eventually drops.

Then, reaching peak frustration, the CEO resorts to concluding the call on his cell phone, but again the signal is lost and the call ends.

The story may be fictional, but it does prove a point: Sometimes, innovation isn’t limited by imagination, but infrastructure.

Verizon is one of the companies working to address the infrastructure problem with its 5G wireless network, which it displayed for New Jersey businesspeople and politicians last week in Warren.

On the current 4G wireless network, which is available on most smart phones, users have download speeds of four to 12 megabits per second. Verizon demonstrated that its 5G technology is capable of nearly 14 gigabits per second.

“At this speed, you could download a high-definition version of the ‘Star Wars’ movie in 15 to 20 seconds, whereas it could take almost an hour or more on a 4G network,” Verizon 5G brand ambassador Brae Legg said.

Industry experts estimate 5G could be widely available by 2020. Verizon is attempting to beat that estimation.

The 5G speeds would greatly accelerate the capabilities of technologies already used, such as downloading or streaming movies, but Verizon focused on how the extent of the improvement could open up new applications of the network.

“We’re so early in the technology’s development at this point that the ‘wows’ of today are the floor,” Verizon Wireless spokesperson David Weissmann said.

“When we were in 2G and 3G, the idea of live streaming video was almost foreign, as we were looking at our flip phones.”

Part of the foreign future includes the realization of the “Internet of Things,” the concept that thousands of wirelessly connected devices can communicate with one another.

A current example of the IoT is home automation services such as Wanderlogic, based in Sparta.

A device is installed in a user’s home and he can set the temperature or airflow remotely from a smartphone. This transaction requires the smartphone to transmit data to a network, then the network sends that data to the home device.

This technology is available now because it does not require a large amount of data to be transferred, or for that data to be transmitted in a timely manner. Verizon’s 5G would open up the possibilities of how data could be transmitted due to the network’s high bandwidth (amount of data) and low latency (how fast it can be transmitted).

Latency can be described as a delay from when data is sent to when it is received. It’s typically a very short amount of time (milliseconds), but exists continuously and fluctuates based on the connection to the network.

Current 4G technology can experience 20 to 40 milliseconds of latency, but Verizon said its 5G technology is measured in single digits. This difference may be minimal for setting the temperature of a home, but critically significant for upcoming technologies such as autonomous driving cars or remote robotics surgery.

“If (doctors or dentists) have to do procedures, you might not have to go to the hospital in the near future,” Bernards Township Regional Chamber of Commerce President Albert LiCata said.

LiCata later said the technology “opens up the doors for everybody regardless of socioeconomic standings.”

Verizon officials speculated that the prevalence of a 5G wireless network could service companies and individuals interested in optical fiber cable speeds without having to spend money on installing infrastructure to support it.

Verizon may be enthusiastic about its technology’s capabilities and how quickly it will make it to market, but some internet specialists are skeptical on 5G’s arrival.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, based in Piscataway, released a video earlier this year detailing what a true 5G network would look like. The video explains that a major problem for 4G wireless network users is the prevalence of more smart devices coming online and clogging the service, resulting in slower speeds for everyone.

A true 5G network could solve this problem by “opening new real estate” by broadcasting signals on smaller waves through the air. However, these “millimeter waves” would have difficultly traveling through solid objects such as buildings, trees or clouds.

The network would have to compensate for this complication through a variety of other innovations that would allow it to work. In concept, the network could exist, but currently the technology and infrastructure for it does not exist.

Verizon’s event didn’t address these concerns, focusing instead on the ability to achieve higher speeds and how it could be used.

“One of the future concepts of 5G is holographic conferencing,” Legg said. “Instead of just seeing someone’s face on video, you’d see a 3D holographic representation of them like we’ve seen in science fiction movies.”

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