Telecommunications Policy

5G Is the Future

If local NIMBYs and federal bureaucrats don't mess it up


A decade ago, the iPhone was still a novelty. Apple's App Store was barely a year old. Online gaming required consoles or computers, Wi-Fi connections, and power outlets. Your phone could make calls and receive emails, but it would be two years before Facebook even had a mobile app.

Today your phone is a portal to entertainment and essential services, from online games to driving directions to health care records, all of which is available to you just about anywhere.

Less than a decade from now, an even better wireless internet system might let you play a console-quality game on your phone, then click an app to video chat with a physician who can read your vital signs and prescribe medication—all without leaving your house, or perhaps while zipping around town in an autonomous vehicle.

The fourth generation of wireless telecommunications technology, or "4G," allowed for streaming video, integrated mapping apps such as Waze, and an explosion in social media, from Snapchat to Instagram—though few people would have predicted those specific developments when 4G debuted about a decade ago.

With "5G," the possibilities are bigger and weirder. But the leap to the next level of mobile internet connectivity will require a complete overhaul of the infrastructure that's formed the backbone of cellphone networks for the past two decades. New antennas will communicate with faster microchips inside your phone, using a new type of signal in previously unused bandwidth. Some wireless companies are already selling "5G-ready" devices and marketing their networks as ready to "evolve" to 5G.

For now, those are mostly marketing ploys. Even if your phone says it's 5G E, you are not actually experiencing the new network yet. A tiny number of cities have small 5G networks up and running, But as with 4G, the really cool stuff will take more time.

That is, if the government doesn't make a mess of it.

Upgrading existing cellphone networks to 5G will require cooperation from local governments and a hands-off approach from Washington. Unfortunately, the many ways in which modern telecommunications technology intersects with the government's regulatory, economic, and security concerns—and, increasingly, how it figures into the geopolitical "race" between the U.S. and China—provide ample opportunity for bureaucratic interference. All of which means that 5G technology has become the latest battlefield for an age-old struggle between the forces of stasis and of innovation.

"There's about every geopolitical, technical, and economic angle you can imagine," says Shane Tews, a tech policy fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. That creates plenty of opportunities for government meddling. Some cities are upset that federal guidelines determine where critical 5G infrastructure can be located, potentially depriving localities of a chance to shake down telecom companies. The Trump administration suggested—and then backed away from—a plan to nationalize part of the 5G rollout, taking decision-making power out of the private sector's hands. And regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have been fighting to keep other agencies from slowing 5G's deployment for frivolous bureaucratic reasons.

"Government can best serve the public interest through regulatory humility," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has championed a hands-off approach to 5G, said at a conference in Austin, Texas, last year. "Instead of viewing innovation as a problem to be regulated based on rules from the past, government should see innovation's potential, guided by markets that embrace the future."

Faster Games, Better Health

To understand why gaming—and everything else done on a mobile network—will be radically different in a 5G world, you have to understand two related ways to measure the speed of a mobile connection.

The first is bit rate, a term for download and upload speeds. A solid 4G mobile connection might provide download speeds of about 50 megabits per second (Mbps), but average 5G connections will operate at roughly 1 gigabyte per second—about 20 times faster than 4G. Qualcomm, one of the world's biggest chip makers, has demonstrated 5G microchips capable of handling downloads at up to 4.5 gigabytes per second, though that sort of speed is unlikely to be common. In practical terms, a feature-length movie that would have taken 24 hours to download on a 3G connection and about 6 minutes on a 4G connection will take just 10 seconds with 5G.

The second component that determines the speed of a mobile internet connection is something called latency. It's the gap in time between when a mobile device sends a command and when that command is received by a server. Even though the gaps can be mere milliseconds, they add up quickly when a mobile game or other app is sending and receiving millions of commands every minute.

Think about it like this: Each shot fired at an in-game target requires your phone to send a series of commands to a server in the cloud. The server determines whether the shot was a hit or a miss, and then the network reports that information back to your phone to be displayed on the screen. It all happens so fast that you don't even think about it—unless a laggy connection ruins the experience.

Mobile gaming exploded during the 4G era, but it's still limited compared to what you can play on a console (such as an Xbox) or a desktop gaming rig. Mobile connections just aren't as fast as wired connections. But 5G technology makes it possible to imagine a Netflix-like experience that requires no console, just a phone or other portable device, with games run completely on remote servers.

Google's Stadia project, which has already gone through beta testing and is set for release in November, might be the first gaming system to take advantage of the coming 5G networks. Google claims that Stadia—an online-only gaming system—will offer console-quality games that can be played on any screen, from PCs to TVs to phones. Instead of games being stored on a disc or hard drive, they'll be stored in the cloud, accessible from anywhere. Waiting to download a game, says Phil Harrison, Google's vice president in charge of the Stadia project, "will be a thing of the past."

While at home, many players might connect to Stadia over a traditional cable or fiber optic internet, where speeds of 1 gigabyte per second are already available. But with the advent of 5G mobile connections, gamers will, in theory, be able to play the same game on the go without sacrificing quality or speed.

To use Stadia, Google recommends a connection of at least 10 Mbps and latency of less than 40 milliseconds with 5 percent data loss. That connection speed is within the range available on 4G networks now, but latency on a 4G connection averages about 50 milliseconds. LTE connections have reduced that to about 20 milliseconds, at best—sufficient for a service like Stadia, if you can maintain a strong enough connection. The 5G specs adopted last year by the International Telecommunications Union, which sets industry standards, call for latency of no more than 4 milliseconds.

Faster gaming is one thing, but other 5G developments might do more than make your life more enjoyable—they might prolong it. The ability to move more data more quickly between devices will open the door to new medical technologies, giving doctors volumes of information about patients even without being in the same room. That means telemedicine could finally be ready to go mainstream.

Market Research Future, a firm that predicts business trends, expects the American telemedicine market to grow by more than 16 percent annually from 2017 to 2023, in large part because faster connection speeds and lower latency will let doctors talk to and diagnose patients via high-definition video streamed from a phone. That could be a huge development for access to medical care—one that would be a boon for residents of rural areas, for the poor, and for the elderly. And everyone will benefit from spending less time sitting in a waiting room. If 4G gives you the ability to play Angry Birds until the doctor is ready to see you, 5G may let you skip the in-person visit altogether.

Some telemedicine will be fully automated, with wearable sensors providing real-time information about vital signs, falls, or physical activity, giving doctors a better understanding of a patient's health with fewer invasive procedures. A Stanford University study estimates that, in 2020, Americans will produce 2,314 exabytes of medical data (an exabyte is equal to a billion gigabytes), up from a mere 153 exabytes in 2013.

"Those troves of information become the foundation for biomedical research," the Stanford researchers conclude. "We are beginning to reconstruct the relationship between genes and life and health in ways that are likely to be transformative."

5G's NIMBY Problem

Some of the policies that will dictate 5G's future are being made right now at the State Department, the Commerce Department, and the FCC. But equally important is what happens in places like Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building in Washington, D.C., home to Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city council.

There, during an October 2018 hearing, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ann Mladinov voiced concern about the "visual clutter" that could result from having "so many additional poles holding small cell boxes over sidewalks and in other public space." At the same hearing, another attendee told the council it should protect D.C. neighborhoods' aesthetic qualities from being "put at risk for more corporate gain." Like tall buildings and other forms of visible urban development, 5G has a "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) problem.

Those complaints, and many more like them lodged with city councils across the country, have to do with the physical hardware that will be necessary for widespread 5G adoption. Mobile providers are ditching the traditional cell tower, the backbone of cellular networks since they first emerged, in favor of so-called "small cell" antennas. These devices—some no bigger than a backpack, others as large as a refrigerator—will be affixed to telephone poles and buildings. Because each one has a considerably smaller range than a tower, covering a whole city requires a small cell to be placed every few blocks, a potential point of friction for residents who dislike change. But the benefits for users will be large.

Not only will the physical components be capable of making faster connections, but the physical proximity to users and greater bandwidth will allow more devices to be connected at once. A 4G network can handle about 4,000 devices per square kilometer. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has claimed that 5G networks will be able to handle up to 1 million devices within the same space.

"It's going to introduce more competition, that's for sure," says Ian Adams, a 5G policy expert with TechFreedom, a nonprofit advocacy group. Because 5G mobile networks will offer speeds similar to wired connections, cable companies and traditional internet service providers will have more rivals. This may force them to innovate or lower prices, and the likely result will be better, cheaper online access for all.

But if the tradeoff is greater "visual clutter" on and above city streets, some people won't be on the side of innovation.

In letters to the FCC, telecom companies have complained about a wide range of local regulations that have slowed the deployment of 5G infrastructure—often a result of trying to apply rules written for large cell towers to the small cell antennas. For example, one Pennsylvania town requires that an eight-foot fence be erected around any structure containing a small cell antenna. That's commonsensical for older, larger towers, but it's nonsensical for a device that can be attached to a telephone pole.

Similarly, AT&T complained that it has had to pause or decrease small cell deployments in parts of California, Maryland, and Massachusetts due to high fees, and that some municipalities in Washington and New York have used restrictive zoning to limit the placement of small cell antennas. Timing is also an issue. The Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), an industry group, claims that about a third of all wireless antenna approvals exceed the 90-day limit for review that the FCC established in 2009. In one extreme case, the town of Paramus, New Jersey, spent five years considering a Sprint application for a new cell site before denying the request. In Greenburgh, New York, a small cell contractor faced a review process for a single antenna that "took approximately two years and nearly twenty meetings, with constantly shifting demands," the WIA says. When a telecom company wanted to attach 23 small cells to the sides of Houston's NRG Stadium, it first had to spend $180,000 in mandatory historic review fees. The stadium was built in 2002.

In taking action to curb the worst abuses, the FCC is attempting to strike a balance between innovation and local control. The agency estimates that streamlining the approval process will save telecoms $2 billion that can be put toward further expansion of their 5G networks.

But federal pre-emption is always going to be an imperfect solution. Ideally, telecom companies would negotiate with individual property owners to obtain the right to place small cell antennas on the sides of buildings or atop privately owned poles. But local governments generally control where such devices can be installed and how much companies are required to pay for the privilege.

It's fine for residents to voice their opinions, of course, but "a local government shouldn't get to impede the development of a national infrastructure," says Adams. "Putting guardrails on particularly egregious local actions," as the FCC has tried to do, is "important if we want to have uniformity of infrastructure."

The local interference can indeed be egregious. In 2015, San Jose, California, started charging telecom companies $3,500 for each small cell antenna installed—far more than what similarly sized cities like Phoenix ($100) and Indianapolis ($50) charge for the right to install the same equipment. By 2018, it was apparent that the costs were causing San Jose to fall behind in the early stages of 5G deployment. So the city reconfigured the per-antenna fee into a $1 million one-time payment coupled with ongoing tax obligations. Mayor Sam Liccardo promised to use the revenue for a "Digital Inclusion Fund" that would spend $24 million bringing high-speed internet to 50,000 low-income households within the next 10 years.

The FCC's new rules put an end to that shakedown. By capping the fees that localities can charge for installing 5G small cell antennas, it ensured that companies like T-Mobile and Verizon don't have to pay off cities like San Jose for the right to bring residents high-speed mobile internet.

Shireen Santosham, the chief innovation officer within the San Jose mayor's office, has called the FCC's rules "a $2 billion taxpayer-funded subsidy to corporate interests." But that's hardly accurate. The new policy doesn't require that taxpayers underwrite the 5G rollout. It only prevents cities from extorting telecom companies for the right to deploy small antennas. Keeping those dollars out of city tax coffers means the companies will be able to invest in infrastructure where they know it's needed rather than where bureaucrats decide it should go.

Governments should strive to make "an honest assessment of where the market is," says Pai, "recognizing that government can't predict and shouldn't micromanage the future, and getting rid of the red tape that stifles innovation and progress."

Trump vs. the FCC

Now, Pai and the FCC find themselves fighting not only NIMBYs and city councils but another arm of the Trump administration. The strangest controversy to erupt over the 5G rollout pits the FCC against the Department of Commerce.

The conflict began earlier this year, when AT&T and T-Mobile won an auction for the rights to various territories within the 24 gigahertz (GHz) bandwidth. Spectrum auctions are routine; this was the 101st such event in the FCC's history.

Things got weird in May, when NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which are jointly responsible for America's fleet of weather-tracking satellites, complained to Congress that 5G cellphone signals in the 24 GHz bandwidth could interfere with satellites that read water vapor signals coming off the ocean. Among other things, those satellites are critical for forecasting the paths of tropical storms. In 2012, for example, they correctly predicted that Hurricane Sandy would make an unusual westward turn toward the New York City metro area. Without that tip, the disaster could have been far worse.

NOAA relies on a signal band that runs between 23.6 GHz and 24 GHz, so there won't be direct overlap with the 24 GHz space that the mobile companies bought, which is currently unused. The federal weathermen say things could get cloudy along the very edges, where the bands run up against one another. Pai's agency predicts sunny skies ahead because there's already a buffer zone between the two bandwidths—and because independent testing commissioned by the FCC has concluded that there's no need to worry.

"The assumptions that undergird [NOAA's 5G interference claims] are fundamentally flawed," Pai told the Senate Commerce Committee in June. Among other things, the NOAA study did not take into account the fact that 5G signals will be more focused ("beam-forming signals," in industry lingo) than the signals sent by traditional cellphone towers, which broadcast in all directions.

In the two years since NOAA initially objected, the agency has not completed a follow-up study to confirm its worries about interference. Pai told lawmakers he was frustrated by the hold-ups. "The Department of Commerce [which oversees NOAA] has been blocking our efforts at every single turn," he said.

If the possibility of interference with weather satellites "is truly a technical problem," says Joel Thayer, policy counsel for The App Association, which represents more than 5,000 app makers and mobile device companies, "then these agencies can solve it with technical solutions instead of performing political theater."

While Commerce continues to drag its feet, the Department of Justice removed a potential stumbling block to the 5G rollout this summer when it gave the go-ahead for a merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the third- and fourth-largest telecom providers in America. That merger was essential, the two companies argued, because they individually lacked the capital and wireless spectrum access necessary to compete with their larger rivals (AT&T and Verizon) in deploying 5G tech.

Attorneys general from 14 states and the District of Columbia have objected to the proposed $26 billion merger, citing fears about limited choice in the telecom market. The merger would "cause irreparable harm to mobile subscribers nationwide by cutting access to affordable, reliable wireless service," they warned in a letter asking the Justice Department to block the deal.

But without a T-Mobile/Sprint merger, wireless customers might have been left with fewer choices, not more. If neither company was positioned to compete with the bigger providers, the result would be a 5G network dominated by two companies instead of three, says Jessica Melugin, associate director for technology and innovation at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Justice Department gave its assent to the deal in July, but not without some typically shady maneuvers on all sides. T-Mobile executives spent more than $195,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., while lobbying for the merger, The Washington Post reported. And before allowing the deal to go through, Justice Department officials required the companies to agree to subsidize a new telecom competitor: Satellite TV provider Dish, which is acquiring Boost Mobile, will have access to T-Mobile cell towers for the next five years as it builds out its own network.

"With the government out of the way, consumers will get the wireless innovations they deserve and that the unfettered marketplace can deliver," says Melugin. "It's a shame this approval had to come with government divestiture conditions that are likely arbitrary and unfairly penalizing."

Winning the Race

Of all the ways that government could intervene to screw up the transition to 5G, perhaps none would be worse than the idea floated in January 2018 by officials at the National Security Council (NSC).

A leaked NSC memo compared the development of 5G infrastructure to the building of the national interstate highway system. It suggested that the Trump administration should effectively nationalize broadband service as a way to stay ahead of the Chinese government's development of similar tech. The idea was widely condemned by the tech industry, by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, by the FCC, and by top White House policy advisers such as Larry Kudlow.

But like many bad ideas, this one refuses to die. In March, Brad Parscale, a top Trump campaign aide, pushed the idea of a "wholesale" 5G network in which the government owns the spectrum and distributes rights to wireless providers within certain geographic areas. The plan "is in line with President Trump's agenda to benefit all Americans, regardless of geography," Kayleigh McEnany, the campaign's national spokeswoman, told Politico.

It would likely end up doing the opposite. A "wholesale" broadband system would eliminate the competition that should be created by the 5G rollout, instead carving the country into a series of geographic quasi-monopolies, similar to how cable services used to operate. The federal government could force wireless providers to serve rural areas that might otherwise have to wait a while to get 5G service—but at the cost of preventing those companies from determining the most efficient way to allocate limited resources.

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has published a series of op-eds encouraging the Trump administration to nationalize the 5G network in response to China's attempt to do the same. "Our own laissez-faire tendencies and preferences are being used to defeat us," Gingrich wrote. "If we don't take decisive action soon, we will find that the Chinese have occupied an overwhelming position in wireless on the geostrategic map. We will find ourselves surrounded." Much of the subtext of the "race to 5G" narrative is wrapped around this jingoistic framing.

The people who make such arguments are not completely wrong. After all, there is a significant "first mover advantage" to attracting the firms that will build the telemedicine, artificial intelligence, gaming, and autonomous vehicle apps that will occupy the 5G landscape. A decade ago, the U.S. "won" the race to 4G, which the FCC estimates added $100 billion to America's gross domestic product by putting us at the forefront of a $950 billion app economy.

And China is indeed winning at 5G deployment so far. China Tower, the state-owned cell infrastructure monopoly, has installed more than 1.9 million cell sites, while the United States has a little more than 300,000. Some, like Gingrich, see those numbers as cause for panic—and panic, as always, paves the way for government intervention. But becoming like China is not the way to beat China.

Thankfully, Trump seems to have broken with his own campaign on the 5G issue. At an April press conference, the president reaffirmed the importance of a free market in telecom deployment. "In the United States, our approach is private sector–driven and private sector–led," he said, promising that wireless companies would invest $275 billion in building 5G networks and creating 3 million jobs. "As you probably heard, we had another alternative of doing it. That would be through government investment. We don't want to do that because it won't be nearly as good, nearly as fast." He's right about that.

Some of those promised jobs are already starting to materialize. Ericsson, a Sweden-based maker of telecommunications equipment, announced in late June that it would build a new factory in the United States to produce small cell antennas and other 5G gear. The planned factory's location has not yet been determined, but the company hopes to have it open by early 2020. "Building 5G equipment in the United States," the FCC's Pai said in a statement, "is good for our economy, good for the supply chain, and good for the rapid rollout of the next generation of wireless connectivity."

It's probably misleading to think about the next round of mobile technology as a "race" at all. It's not a one-time event that will have an absolute winner and—as the president might say—a total loser. Having the first viable national 5G network would be an undeniable boon to whichever country achieves it, but the "race" metaphor is a zero-sum vision of the future.

Realistically, 5G technology is going to make everyone better off, even if we can't predict exactly how. When the first 4G smartphones went on the market in 2009, they were expected to usher in an explosion of new apps and other software. But few could have predicted the specifics, from Uber to Fortnite.

The same will be true for the 5G era. Brent Skorup, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, predicts we'll get "warehouse-floor robots that self-organize shipments, remotely operated electric air taxis that carry passengers high above rush-hour traffic, or smart glasses that connect blind people with professional guides who use audio-video feeds to help wearers get around."

Fast mobile connectivity is the foundation for whatever future innovations may develop. It promises more jobs, better communication, more enjoyable leisure time, and medical advances that let us live longer. "The speed of our connections is the speed of commerce," says Adams, who favors the mostly hands-off approach the FCC has been taking with the 5G rollout. Whether for work or for play, he says, "the availability of virtually unlimited data is only going to improve the quality of life."

NEXT: Brickbat: I Put a Spell on You

Telecommunications Policy Cellphones NIMBY FCC Mobile Technology

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90 responses to “5G Is the Future

  1. A solid LTE connection provides 50 Mbytes/s, not Mbits as the article claims, and often it’s higher. That’s plenty for most applications.

    1. “640k ought to be enough for anybody” -Bill Gates, 1981

      1. Oooh, how clever! Now explain please what applications actually need significantly more than 50 Mbytes/sec per device? That’s 10x the bit rate of high quality VR video today. There is a limit to how much information the human brain can consume per second, and once your per-device bandwidth goes substantially above that, it’s unclear what the benefit is.

        The real benefits of 5G are more likely in the IoT area, not in the maximum bandwidth you can get out of it.

        1. Now explain please what applications actually need significantly more than 50 Mbytes/sec per device?

          The applications that people will write to take advantage of higher speeds that would be unable to function with current speeds.

          Your point is like saying Bill Gates’ inability to predict Facebook in 1981 is proof positive that nobody needs more than 640k. (Not that I’d notice if Facebook didn’t exist)

          1. Your point is like saying Bill Gates’ inability to predict Facebook in 1981 is proof positive that nobody needs more than 640k. (Not that I’d notice if Facebook didn’t exist)

            In 1981, people could give you a very, very long list of applications that required more than 640k.

            In 1981, social networks already existed, just not Facebook.

            It’s doubtful Bill Gates ever said what you attribute to him, but if he did, his folly wasn’t his inability to predict the future, it was his lack of familiarity with the state of the art.

            1. Nice way to not answer the question. Why even bother typing just to dodge it?

              And are you really anciente and olde or something? Why such a curmudgeonly attitude? Why whine about having too much speed?

              You probably whine about cars having too much power, too many gadgets, too much this that or the other. Do you go to new model homes and complain of too many bathrooms, or go to appliance showrooms and complain of too many burners on stoves?

              How about you drop by an airport and complain that anything more than one blade is too many for any decent honest propeller?

              1. Nice way to not answer the question. Why even bother typing just to dodge it?

                Sarcasmic dodged my question. What question do you think I dodged?

                Why whine about having too much speed?

                I’m not “whining about having too much speed”, I’m simply explaining why the business case the article makes for 5G is mostly wrong. 5G probably has a business case for it in terms of higher density, lower power, and IoT. If it was just about speed, it wouldn’t be worth the investment.

          2. If every highway had 100 lanes just think of all the applications!

            Everything has a cost. The reality is that we are in the era of diminishing returns. Buffering data for 30 seconds versus 5 just isn’t that big of a change. Connections over 100Mbps aren’t showing their vaunted payback.

        2. “There is a limit to how much information the human brain can consume per second”

          Oh, really? How much is that, and how did you measure it?

          1. How much is that, and how did you measure it?

            For images, we know it from visual acuity measurements (similar to eye charts), and for sound, we know it from sounds you can distinguish experimentally. Video and audio codecs have been designed based on this for decades.

            For audio, this translates directly into about 200–300 kbps for the best possible audio with modern compression. For video, the most demanding app is 360 degree VR, currently at about 50 Mbps. Quality is still far below what human eyes can resolve, but optimal VR video likely won’t require more (and even if it does, 50 Mbps is far below the limits of even current 4G networks).

            1. Are human eyes the only data consumers?

              Do computers never do anything that is not going directly to human eyes?

              Why gosh golly gee.

              1. Are human eyes the only data consumers?

                Informationally, they’re at the top of the heap in terms of latency and bandwidth. There are other systems and some have less latency, but the bandwidth is noise with regard to video processing.

                Pretending otherwise is pretty superficially stupid. The hardware to record and manipulate video is massively overpowered for fully manipulating audio and that is massively overpowered for fully manipulating other biological processes and interactions. NOYB2 is right, as latency goes down and bandwidth goes up, we start talking about technology that benefits computers and collectives rather than individual humans.

                Not that a human doesn’t or couldn’t benefit from yoctosecond processing or Pbps bandwidth in any way, but the benefit is indirect and convoluted. It would seem highly likely that the collective or the computing infrastructure itself is benefiting from such upgrades far more than the individual.

                1. You know, computers are used for a lot more than streaming media to end consumers.

                  1. They are! But to put a computer with huge network bandwidth requirements on a mobile network is not cost effective.

              2. Are human eyes the only data consumers? Do computers never do anything that is not going directly to human eyes?

                Frequently. But it’s not rational to run those applications on a mobile device, not even over 5G: it’s cheaper and less power hungry to run the app elsewhere and just transmit video.

            2. Get a load of the Luddite here! The massive bandwidth available via 5G will be welcomed and utilized by applications you can’t even conceive yet.

              1. Get a load of the science denier here. 5G is where Boehm and and neophytes like you get to learn what the Shannon limit is (and join the rest of us from the 20th century).

                1. Get a load of the idiot here who thinks companies are throwing away billions of dollars of their own money on a useless technology.

                  1. Get a load of the idiot here who thinks companies are throwing away billions of dollars of their own money on a useless technology.

                    What’s Twitter got to do with this?

                  2. Get a load of the idiot here who thinks companies are throwing away billions of dollars of their own money on a useless technology.

                    I didn’t say that the technology was useless, I said that the justification in the article was wrong. 5G will help with power requirements, device density, and IoT applications.

              2. The massive bandwidth available via 5G will be welcomed and utilized by applications you can’t even conceive yet.

                Where did I say that it shouldn’t be deployed? Of course, 5G is useful, and of course people already know what applications it’s useful for, otherwise they wouldn’t be investing billions of dollars. It’s just that the analysis in the article is largely nonsense.

                Get a load of the Luddite here!

                Learn to read.

                1. How you bother replying to these assholes, I don’t even know.

    2. Yes, he says bits one place, bytes the other — I saw it in the magazine and sent Eric email, saying there was time to fix it for the digital version, but I guess … meh.

    3. If that’s true then I’ve never had a “solid” LTE connection since I got an LTE phone 5 years ago, despite living in Chicago

      1. I think the first Gigabit LTE phones came out in 2018.

      1. From the article:

        Verizon offers the highest average download speed at 36 Mbps, with much higher speeds available in major cities.

        In fact, LTE is capable of gigabit speeds in the latest generation (which translates into about 400 Mbps in real-world scenarios under good conditions).

    4. I would love to see your source that says 4g can reach speeds of 400Mbps (which is what you’re claiming by saying “50 Mbytes/s”). I think you may be getting your bits and bytes backward

      1. Various phones (including recent iPhones) and carriers (including Sprint) support Gigabit LTE. Theoretically, LTE can support up to 2 Gbps with current technologies. Gigabit LTE is a 4G technology, although some carriers confusingly call it “5G Evolution” or something like that.

  2. Total surveillance, total control and it reheats food w/o the need for a microwave oven!

    1. Forgot to mention one of the biggest obstacles.

      State and Local governments who lend an ear to people who claim that RF causes their spider senses to tingle, despite 100+ years of evidence that RF is not dangerous unless you cram yourself into a microwave oven, or go climbing on active high power transmitters.

      1. Yay for threading

      2. Your 100 years of evidence is more circumstantial than concrete. At no point have we had anything like the proposed amount of signal in concentrated areas. Long term studies on cell phone use have troubling results. Try sleeping with a cell under your pillow for two years and see if you don’t notice a difference.

        Health should be a bigger concern here.

        1. The proposed amount of signal “concentrated in an area” is less than the amount of signal being near a standard 4G antenna. 5G has lots of low-power antennas. Stand next to a 4G antenna, and you are receiving transmissions that must extend several miles in all directions. Stand next to a 5G antenna, and you are receiving signal strength necessary for a block or two. And the reason for this is that 5G frequency is blocked by stuff like walls and skin. So people freaking out about brain tumors should be cheering the 5G advent.

        2. Using microwave radiation to keep birds off of runaways was examined in the 60’s. It was shown to be effective at triggering their autonomic nervous system.

        3. Try sleeping with a cell under your pillow for two years and see if you don’t notice a difference.

          When I did it I woke up two years older!

        4. And what is the physiological effect by which radio waves at low power affect cellular life? Have you discovered some new principle of chemistry? Nobel Prize incoming!

        5. Long term studies on cell phone use have troubling results. Try sleeping with a cell under your pillow for two years and see if you don’t notice a difference.

          1. No they don’t. They really don’t. There not only is not any epidemiological data to support the thesis that cell phone radiation is a hazard, there’s also no known mechanism beyond heating that it could be. And ‘thermal equilibrium’ is the answer to that one.

          2. I’ve been sleeping with a cellphone within 3 feet of my head for 8 years now. My pillow has far greater signal attenuation than air so three inches of compressed pillow provide more attenuation than 3 feet of air. No problems.

      3. Preach on, brother Dave!

        *adjusts tinfoil hat

    2. Your current cell phone is more likely to reheat your food than a 5G phone, because your current phone uses the same 2.4ghz band as a microwave. 5G operates a higher frequency so it won’t be able to reheat anything

  3. Of course, the companies could just advertise the local government interference, and point out to the locals that until the officials came to their senses or got un-elected, there would be no 5G in that locality. Then while they build out the 5G in other areas, they keep pointing out WHY there is only pokey old 4G where the NIMBY’s live.

    On the other hand, 5G will just make the creation and spread of fake news lynch mobs all the faster. Is it really necessary to learn about the latest made up story from NYT, WaPo, or CNN 4 times as fast?

    1. Sadly, government is just another word for the things we do together.

      There are half a dozen nutcases on Next Door trying to spread Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) about 5G, and they are the ones who are causing local councils and regularors to stall.

  4. But then you get the apology and retraction 4 times faster and we can move on and forget about it 4 times faster. Hopefully by 6G the whole process goes by so quickly we don’t even know about it and can go back to just living our lives.

    1. This was supposed to be a reply to longtobefree but I guess it doesn’t matter how fast you can send date if the UI sucks

  5. However this shakes out, let us hope we get the best of all possible worlds where the FCC, ATT, Verizon and Comcast all work together to give us 5G the way we need it to be given to us, even if we’re too stupid to know what’s for our own good. Government regulators and big corporations working hand-in-hand is free market capitalism at its finest and I for one look forward to our shiny new future.

    1. Or we could just remove the big corporations from the picture and go back to Ma Bell and landlines.

  6. They shouldn’t be doing this until they have a long term study on 5g exposure specifically.

    No one needs 1 Gb/sec.

    1. Unless they want to boil water

      1. Won’t work, water molecules vibrate at 2.4ghz, not the 27ghz band 5G operates at. Your current phone operates at 2.4ghz though, it would be better at boiling water than 5G

    2. Hi Bernie! Have you moved on from deodorants to bandwidth?

  7. 5G = microwave radiation
    microwave radiation is very strongly absorbed by water, heating it (this is how a microwave oven heats food).
    the human body is mostly water, like the sausage patty in your TV dinner.
    Yeah, 5G networks will operate at much lower wattages than your microwave oven. But they’ll be on 24/7 and be all-pervasive, with multiple towers per block and tens of thousands of devices per tower.

    1. My oh my, how ironic that cel phones are causing the ice caps to melt.

    2. The microwaves in your oven are 2.450gHz

      The microwaves from the wifi router that you’ve had in your house the past 15 years are are 2.412gHz to 2.462gHz depending on the channel used.

      The RF emissions from a wifi router might raise your body temperature by one or two millikelvin if you connected an external antenna to it and then stuck the antenna where the sun doesn’t shine.

      1. People have had 5GHz in their wifi routers for awhile now.

        1. Yes I know
          Know anybody that turns the 2.4gHz wifi off entirely when they get a dual band wifi router? Ya me neither.
          Maybe apartment dwellers who have no 2.4gHz stuff.
          I still keep the 2.4gHz active because it works in yard, unlike the 5gHz.

          Even if they don’t use wifi, a lot of iot things also use 2.4gHz

    3. Still hiding from power lines?

    4. There’s not just one frequency of microwaves – wavelength is important. Also, the state of the water is important.

      2.45ghz is the normal microwave frequency – ie, what your current phone is broadcasting at. Also, 1g, 2g, 3g, 4g networks were/are on 24/7 and are ‘all-pervasive’ – *that’s their point*, to be able to get a signal any where, any time.

  8. You won’t be able to play shooting games anyway, president Beto will confiscate the guns in the game. Don’t even think about making finger guns.

  9. “A 4G network can handle about 4,000 devices per square kilometer. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has claimed that 5G networks will be able to handle up to 1 million devices within the same space.”

    This is the big deal with 5G…3 orders of magnitude difference in device-to-device connections.

    1. You just enlightened me as to why so many cops mistake cell phones for guns! Their super-cop vision sees the game guns!!!! Oh wow.

    2. Only with a much, much denser antenna field. “5G” will still rely on lower bandwidth for less dense regions.

  10. 5G has been operating about a year in South Korea. The Korean government is deeply involved with companies like KT and SK etc. Had the government adopted Reason’s hands off approach, 5G in Korea would be as retarded as 5G in USA.

    1. And the problem with that is… what?

      1. How badly do you want 5G? Koreans want it more than Americans. Not my problem.

        1. South Koreans likely subsidize it through their taxes.

          I’d prefer if carriers finance it privately.

          1. The fees they pay to the providers will likely be higher than otherwise thanks to agreements among the companies to limit competition.

            “I’d prefer if carriers finance it privately.”

            I wouldn’t hold my breath. Too risky and too expensive for the private sector.

    2. How would you know? I bet by “deeply involved” you mean subsidies.

      Had the US government interfered in the same manner as the SK government, your comment would be even more retarded.

      1. “How would you know? I bet by “deeply involved” you mean subsidies.”

        The government and these companies made arrangements to lessen competition presumably to increase profits.

        “Had the US government interfered… ”

        … 5G might be the present as it is in Korea rather than the future.

        1. A mercantilist! You admit you love love love government pulling the strings.

          1. I’m just relating the news that 5G exists now, not in the future. And it came about because of things you can read about if you are interested. Your feelings about government are irrelevant. So are mine.

  11. Wow. Where do I start? Some of this article reads like unfunny satire, some of it reads like the work of a paid lobbyist for the telecom industry, some of it displays serious ignorance of the immutable technical realities of the electromagnetic spectrum, and some of it reads like the work of someone who is willfully ignoring the current lack of security in Internet networks, IoT devices, and has never heard of a DDoS attack. This has to be one of the worst Reason articles I have ever read. Virtually every paragraph is full of completely refutable nonsense. Apparently the editors just weren’t paying attention over the weekend and let this one slip by. C’mon, Reason! I have come to expect better.

    1. This has to be one of the worst comments ever on Reason. Virtually every sentence is completely false.

      1. I’m not sure if what you are saying is true.

  12. Whether it’s city councils or their constituents I think we can all agree with the good Reverend that it’s the backwater conservative hicks in flyover country that are responsible for this anti-progressive, pro-4G obstructionism. We’d have hundreds of square miles of corn fields blanketed in 5G if it weren’t for these clingers.

  13. So the future of human kind is universal VR and gaming?

    1. its all about the porn

    2. Reason ran an article just last week, we can’t even kill off the reading log. Our grandkids are going to be forced to read virtual books in VR for 20 min. every day.

  14. Nobody needs 5 Gs or 20 different flavors of ice cream…

  15. Just think, with a 5G antenna every couple blocks and an extra couple dozen Mbps of bandwidth beyond what any human can use, not only will the surveillance state will have no problem locating which cell you’re on, they’ll be able to have every microwave, television, and coke machine report on your actions in real time!

    And, once emergency service standards and the FCC get everyone on board, you won’t be able to opt out of paying for it.

  16. What a crock. The 4G spec calls for 1 gig stationary and 100MB traveling. Does anyone get that? Now 5G will get us to the 4G spec after all these years.

  17. “Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has published a series of op-eds encouraging the Trump administration to nationalize the 5G network in response to China’s attempt to do the same. “Our own laissez-faire tendencies and preferences are being used to defeat us,” Gingrich wrote. “If we don’t take decisive action soon, we will find that the Chinese have occupied an overwhelming position in wireless on the geostrategic map….”

    Gentlemen, we cannot allow a 5G gap!

    1. I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system. -W

  18. If the local shakedowns and federal meddling continue holding up terrestrial cellular upgrades, there is another option on the horizon.

    There are at least a couple of companies planning huge space based constellations of satellites that promise to provide huge bandwidth globally. Initially the SpaceX constellation was designed for backhaul internet connectivity, but they recently filed to expand from 12k satellites to more than 30k. That might be in anticipation of a direct-to-consumer downlink… who knows.

    In any event, there will be competition and global reach for the first time. It sounds like they’ll have the capacity to offer cheaper and faster internet to everyone in the entire world pretty soon, which should at least force the current players to up their game. And as this article points out, “current players” includes governments as well as corporations.

    1. The free market solution would be lots of private, individual WiMAX or 5G access points. However, regulatory and licensing regimes prohibit that.

    2. There are at least a couple of companies planning huge space based constellations of satellites that promise to provide huge bandwidth globally.

      Those would be fine for a lot of things, but anything that’s latency sensitive would suck. And that includes voice calls. Imagine everything you say having a near half second delay.

  19. A decade ago . . . Online gaming required consoles or computers, Wi-Fi connections, and power outlets.

    In 2003 I was playing Star Wars Galaxies and WoW on a laptop with a phone card – not wifi. Also, a console is a computers – so is a phone. And laptops run games – on batteries.

    Online gaming on phones has been going on since 3g – it doesn’t take much bandwidth to play poker, for example.

    Less than a decade from now, an even better wireless internet system might let you play a console-quality game on your phone, then click an app to video chat with a physician who can read your vital signs and prescribe medication—all without leaving your house, or perhaps while zipping around town in an autonomous vehicle.

    You don’t need ‘better wireless internet’ to play a ‘console-quality game’ on your phone. You need better hardware on your phone. Except that you don’t because ‘console-quality game’ means ‘shite 900p @60FPS – maybe. In some areas. When its not dipping down to 30’. Better wireless internet might let you *stream* a game from a remote server – but the sorts of games where that would be important are also the sorts of games that aren’t going to run on your phone. Only idiots downloaded the CoD mobile game. Its microtransaction trash.

    Secondly, you can already videochat with your physician and have him monitor your vitals and prescribe. Its called ‘Skype’ or ‘Hangouts’ or ‘SnapChat’ or ‘Facetime’ . . .

    Even if your phone says it’s 5G E, you are not actually experiencing the new network yet.

    Its, uh, a bit more than that. If your phone says ‘5Ge’ – you are being outright lied to. Because that company has already admitted that ‘5Ge’ is just a slightly upgraded ‘4G’ network with a name change.

    That is, if the government doesn’t make a mess of it.

    If *government* doesn’t make a mess of it? Have you been following the technical side? Government will never get a chance to screw up a network where a single transceiver can’t even COVER A SINGLE NBA STADIUM! The frequency band doesn’t curve around objects, nor penetrate them – its strictly LOS and pretty quickly absorbed by the atmosphere so that its pretty short ranged. To the point that the only place where its economical to install – places with high population densities – are also the hardest places to install because of all the signal obstructions.

    So, at best, you city-folk will get to enjoy constantly dropping your 5G connection while us country-folk will never get that pleasure being relegated to a consistent upgraded 4G network presence backing up ubiquitous wifi.

  20. i hope 5G can be improved than 4G one because as well as you improve, it will usefull later for our future , thanks for sharing and here visit my website at

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