Ready for 5G Speed? Here's What You Need To Know

We all know 5G is coming, it's just a matter of when.

It is up to the Federal Communications Commission at its July 14 vote to determine the rules and regulations of the wireless network before 5G is available for the United States. When it does, and 5G enabled devices hit the market, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says we can expect to see extended broadband access, support for autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, smart-city transportation grids, immersive education and entertainment, and a new network standard for the Internet of Things.

"The United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications," Wheeler said. "Unlike some countries, we do not believe we should spend the next couple of years studying what 5G should be, how it should operate and how to allocate spectrum, based on those assumptions."

While the FCC has the power to make 5G available, the commission will be relying on data from private companies to manage standards. Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc plan to deploy 5G trials in 2017, with the first commercial deployments at scale are expected in 2020.

The new mobile standard “will connect nearly everything with high-speed networks 10 times faster than those today and capable of supporting 100 times the number of devices, including the Internet of Things,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of mobile trade group CTIA. “Our homes and our cities will become even more connected, reducing energy consumption and improving our community services.”

Last October the FCC proposed rules for four different spectrum bands above 24 Ghz to be used for 5G networks. The commission laid out its plans for geographic licensing, unlicensed use and a licensing mechanism that can accommodate private and traditional mobile broadband use for each of the ranges, affecting everything 5G enabled from desk clocks to satellites. Wheeler was happy to announce the new rules, and share the dirty story that pre-empted them.

"A few months ago, I found myself in a situation I never would have imagined when I became FCC Chairman. I was in Dallas, Texas; I was at the helm of an excavator; and I was using a piece of heavy machinery to dig up dirt," Wheeler said. "For those of you trying to picture this scene, yes, I was wearing a suit. I was also wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles, and I hadn’t left the FCC."

Technologies like remote virtual reality are just a futuristic dream without a strong network. With the speeds promised by 5G, allowing for thousands of simultaneous users to get download speeds in the tens of megabits per second, or 1 gigabit per second for smaller groups, such applications for virtual reality become actual reality. The FCC will also consider opening up other high frequency bands in July for both private and commercial use, allowing high-speed access for many who can't afford fiber run to their homes.

"Consider that. 14,000 megahertz of unlicensed spectrum, with the same flexible-use rules that has allowed unlicensed to become a breeding ground for innovation," Wheeler said, comparing this 14 Ghz band to the final piece of a "trifecta," which also includes low-band frequency used in for broadcast, and mid-band for 3.5 GHz services.

The FCC's decision in July will pave the way for this innovation but don't expect to see any 5G enabled phones before next year. According to C|Net, AT&T plans to use 5G technology in Texas, to connect homes with high-speed wireless broadband links this year, and Verizon plans to bring 5G to yet-unnamed devices in 2017. The first 5G mobile phones are slated to appear in 2018 at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, as planned by the carrier KT.

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