5G  (Andrey Suslov/Shutterstock.com)

The rocky road to 5G

Although 5G has potential to transform  society, widespread use of the high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless communications technology is still some ways off.

Major telecommunications companies, such as Verizon, are deploying 5G wideband networks mostly in metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to Andrew Ayers with Verizon's client partner connected solutions, who spoke at ATARC's Mobile Working Group's 5G Project Team kickoff meeting. The company has deployed 5G in 23 cities and plans another seven by the end of the year.

While those deployments are mounting, carriers use different methods, from blanketing areas with coverage to "popcorn" hot spots around cities, said Bhupinder Mann, senior vice president of engineering at TeleWorld Solutions consultancy.

In the U.S. carriers will have to invest billions to install enough base stations to support 5G networks, according to Milo Medin, Google's vice president of access services. Issues include signals from handsets that can be easily blocked and indoor transmissions, which could press building owners to install their own internal wireless transmission networks.

Additionally, the current 4G LTE networks will be around for a while because "LTE is efficient," Medin said. Unless 5G is hosted on wider spectrum bands such as the 3 GHz or 4 GHz bands, it offers incremental, but not revolutionary, capabilities over 4G LTE, he explained. In the U.S. that spectrum is used for military applications, so 5G would be implemented on millimeter wavelength spectrum, which can bring power and base station issues for carriers, said Medin.

Shared spectrum capabilities are emerging. One, Citizens Broadband Radio Service, operates on the 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5-3.7 MHz range, sharing frequency allocations with incumbent Defense Department users' shipborne radar applications and commercial service providers. Networks based on CBRS, he said, could be a boon in the emerging 5G arena for building owners, such as the General Services Administration, as a relatively high-bandwidth alternative indoors.

5G technology also presents a unique issue for GSA, because the agency wants federal agencies to use its contracting vehicles for 5G services, according GSA's Office of Telecommunications Director Allen Hill.

Currently, the agency is working through its contracts to ensure they comply with Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits federal agencies from using Chinese-made telecommunications gear, Hill said. Chinese telecom giant Huawei is a leading worldwide supplier of 5G equipment.

"It's not easy" to comb through contracts to ensure compliance, he said. "If you're an agency that doesn't use our vehicles, I'd bet your head is spinning" over requirements.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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