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The Future of 5G

For those not already familiar with 5G, hurry up and get acquainted. This next step in the evolution of wireless technology, with its unprecedented download/upload speeds and potential for innovation, is poised to usher in extraordinary value for businesses located in every corner of the globe. Here in Western Washington, action is already underway to thrust the marketplace into a future fueled by 5G.

Last month, Bellevue-based telecommunications company T-Mobile became the first U.S. wireless operator to launch a nationwide 5G network. T-Mobile’s “low-band” version of the service offers a glimpse into the heights future iterations of 5G can elevate mobile devices, especially if T-Mobile’s proposed purchase of Sprint is able dodge legal scrutiny. The launch also serves as an example of how beneficial it can be for communities to plan alongside the industries they host.

Within the last year, Bellevue has made it a priority to accelerate the emergence of 5G within their city limits. By attaching 5G-enabling devices to pre-existing telephone poles, streetlights and other structures, Bellevue is hoping to advance its access to residents and attract more wireless carriers. Furthermore, Bellevue partnered with T-Mobile and the University of Washington to announce the 5G Open Innovation Lab set to open in 2020. The collaboration is a focused effort to grow the 5G sector in their region as a way of luring more established businesses and start-ups.

Those advancements and partnerships were approved knowing legal hurdles may need to be cleared along the way. Perhaps the largest of those is centered around fees cities are mandated to charge 5G providers per utility pole attachment, per year for hosting their network. The Federal Communications Commission currently has that rate set at $270. Bellevue is one of several cities contending that the rate ordered by the FCC is too low.

While the legal dust settles, businesses operating within every industry are already envisioning a future with 5G. Experts project the network’s increased data speeds to provide enhancements to the customer experience, boost workplace productivity, improve direct-to-consumer capabilities and expedite the delivery of content. Healthcare providers will be able to communicate with patients remotely in real time, online retailers can host virtual reality dressing rooms and manufacturers can further incorporate “automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and IoT” into their operations.

But the immediate future isn’t completely filled with upside. Cost serves as a primary roadblock that may prevent some businesses from integrating 5G technology into their operations, at least in the early going. If the price of T-Mobile’s 5G-ready phones extend up to $1,200 per device, imagine the expense of outfitting even the smallest business with the upgraded network. That process will likely include skilled installers and maintenance phases – all steps associated with hefty price tags.

Security issues pose an additional risk for companies thinking of shifting to 5G capabilities. Ongoing research has already identified network vulnerabilities with 5G that make it possible for unwanted users to infiltrate communication and access private data. When a network is capable of transmitting large volumes of information in a short amount of time, those weaknesses can be especially damaging.

Any downside, though, is easily overshadowed by the extraordinary benefits associated with 5G. Its technology is estimated to inject more than $13 trillion into the global economy and add upwards of 22 million jobs. There’s little doubt growth that significant will be felt here in Western Washington, too. Action taken by T-Mobile and Bellevue are showing the impact of 5G may arrive home in a hurry.

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Written by Ben Spradling

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