The future of wireless broadband just got a little brighter last week when the Federal Communications Commission announced plans for the development of 5G networks. Tom Wheeler indicated that this might be “the most important decision” the FCC makes this year. We know what you’re thinking – 4G? LTE? 5G? Sounds like we’re running out of alphabet. What’s the big deal anyway?

Let’s take a brief dive into what 5G is, what it could do for the future of wireless in America, and why the FCC’s ruling matters to you.

“The United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. And that’s damn important because it means U.S. companies will be first out of the gate.”

Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman

 

What is 5G?

5G stands for “fifth generation,” and it indicates an advanced set of standards for how wireless networks operate. Currently, most networks utilize 4G and, until recently, this meant operating in a frequency spectrum below 24GHZ. A recent ruling by the FCC opens up the frequency spectrum above 24GHZ for auction to providers who would like to usher in a next generation wireless network.

Previously, frequencies above 24GHZ were considered unusable given the current technology because the wavelengths were short and as a result, signal loss was too great. At higher frequencies, signals tend to be easily blocked, making reception indoors and over longer distances problematic. However, advances in technology and the ability to construct networks from smaller cells may be able to address these concerns within the next year. 5G wireless broadband would mean consumers could enjoy more data delivered at multi-gig speeds. In fact, the FCC estimates that 5G could bring speeds from 10-100 times faster than the ones 4G currently provides. To give you some idea of what this means, users operating on a 5G network could download a TV show in less than three seconds. Next generation networks operating at higher frequencies could banish buffering in the blink of an eye.

 

Two recent rulings that matter for the future of 5G

The history of the FCC ruling on opening the frequency spectrum stems from inquiries that began back in October of 2014. In addition to questions about whether or not the technology was advanced enough to support these networks, satellite providers had some serious concerns. Currently, higher frequencies on the spectrum are utilized for earth to space communications like the kind provided by satellites. Echostar, the satellite provider for DISH Network, was one of several that petitioned the FCC to ensure there would be no interruption to their ability to provide satellite service to millions of customers. The recent FCC ruling does have stipulations that ensure a balance between all the interests concerned in creating these next generation networks. So rest easy, Dish and DIRECTV network customers and AT&T are NOT coming for your satellite dish. Not yet, anyway.

In a less publicized but equally important development, the FCC passed a set of rules that would allow providers like AT&T to begin to phase out old landlines in some areas. Because several providers had been previously accused of failing to adequately support the ancient copper-wire networks, the FCC mandated that landlines in certain areas could not be phased out unless the following criteria were met:

  • Performance, reliability, and coverage remains unchanged for customers.
  • Cities retain access to basic services like 911, cyber security, and service for persons with disabilities.
  • Compatibility continues with existing popular services that customers, small businesses and other consumers use. (i.e home security, medical monitoring, credit card readers, fax machines, and more) Because you know someone, somewhere is still using that fax from the 90s.

In order to terminate service to landlines, companies would need to prove they’d met the above criteria and then provide at least three months’ notice to customers. So breathe easy, Grandma. The FCC isn’t forcing you to get a cell phone.

 

What 5G means for you

Both of these recent rulings have direct impact on shaping how the industry will pursue supporting phone service and wireless networks moving forward. And it clearly signals that the future of 5G is here. AT&T claims that over 60% of their wireless bandwidth in the last year was devoted to mobile video, so the faster speeds that advanced next-gen networks could bring will arrive just in time. AT&T has been working diligently on developing 5G technology and plans to be able to offer the first 5G networks in Austin, Texas later this year.

“Technology will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make it a reality.”

John Donovan, AT&T’s Chief Strategy Officer

What can 5G do for you? It’ll support the increasing presence of the internet, making our online lives a seamless part of our everyday. From video to virtual reality, 4K HD to the Internet of Things, faster networks mean increased capabilities. It gives us a connected, new world where we can make our lives and communities hum with efficiency, run on wireless technology.

 

If you want a provider that allows you to bundle your wireless with other services or you’re looking for a company that’s well positioned to provide 5G when it becomes available, use our provider tool to see who is available in your service area.