Although many devices have 5G capabilities these days, a recent study showed that people in the US spend less than 25% of their online time on a 5G network. This may be because 5G-enabled devices overtake 5G access. Last year, 14 million users subscribed to 5G mobile services, and the number is expected to grow to 554 million by the end of this year. Today, more than half of 2021, T-Mobile has already connected 305 million people to 5G networks. Along with T-Mobile, other major wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T have been rapidly adopting 5G over the past few months, which together cover 75% of the US
On paper, the numbers look great, so it looks like 5G covers most of the country. In practice there is a discrepancy as many people still do not work in 5G networks. What explains this discrepancy? We asked the experts.
The pandemic barrier
The expansion of 5G capacity continued until it hit a large wall in the form of the pandemic. “We relied on telecommunications to get in touch with our friends, family and colleagues. This has resulted in a sudden emphasis on wireless connectivity – especially when working remotely – which is putting pressure on companies to meet the increased demand, ”said Shawn Carpenter, program director at Ansys, a company that helped develop 5G Hardware helps.
While 4G was enough during the pre-pandemic period when most things were happening in person, 4G wasn’t designed to meet our current needs or support non-smartphone applications like the Internet of Things, says David Witkowski, founder and CEO of Oku Solutions, a wireless telecommunications consultancy.
To solve the sudden connectivity crisis that came with the spread of the coronavirus, 5G operators and 5G-focused startups have also developed unique solutions to provide efficient healthcare and educational services. For example, Unmanned Life has developed a 5G Autonomy-as-a-Service platform that can deploy autonomous drones to disinfect COVID-prone regions, deliver essentials like medical supplies and food, and remotely monitor crowded rooms. These innovations are great, but they also put a strain on the network.
5G mobile subscriptions for general consumer use are still lagging behind.
From a consumer perspective, more and more people have had time to spend on their phones both for work and leisure, which has led them to prioritize their networks in ways that weren’t necessary before.
As the demand for 5G increases, expect network providers to respond by increasing capacity. Despite these developments, 5G mobile subscriptions for general consumer use are still lagging behind. According to experts, the path to nationwide 5G rollouts still holds some hurdles.
The infrastructure challenge
The infrastructure is a challenge, says Carpenter. “Basically, we need more electromagnetic spectrum in order to receive a faster service and to transmit more data wirelessly … When entering the 5G spectrum, we work with distances of a few blocks or less. And buildings turn from sponges into mirrors – signals bounce off them instead of penetrating walls and reaching your cell phone. “
There is also the question of where to place all of these access points inside buildings so that we don’t clutter the rooms with routers or leave areas with no connectivity, he adds.
Even with the infrastructure somehow managed, 5G can be difficult for consumers to implement in a wide capacity.
“A key challenge is managing customer expectations: Many of the expected benefits that would result from a fully functional 5G network – minimal latency, network slicing, advanced [augmented reality]/ VR apps, incredibly fast upload and download speeds, fully autonomous driving with vehicle-to-everything communication (V2X) – won’t happen until 5G stand-alone (5GSA) comes into play (still a bit removed) , “Says Dr Paul Carter, CEO and Founder of Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), a wireless testing and consumer research firm.
“With 5G, consumers are promised the moon. Without a certain level setting, it will be easy for their expectations to outweigh the current tangible benefits, ”he adds.
The rural-urban divide
With the growing presence of 5G networks, the question arises: will 5G bridge or worsen the rural-urban divide?
It’s a mixed bag. There may be problems at first if the infrastructure is still being built, but massive benefits await across the board, experts say.
Dee Dee Pare ‘, Cradlepoint’s senior product marketing manager, says 5G will increase the reach of networks. “As 5G becomes the norm in all business and consumer use cases, 4G and LTE will become even more accessible. Instead of looking at the 5G developments that are filling a void, consider improving your overall wireless connectivity. It’s a gradual development that companies and their customers benefit from regardless of location – in the country or in the city, ”she says.
Some experts, like Grant Castle, Vice President of Device Engineering and Technology Labs at T-Mobile, believe the loophole has already been closed. “With T-Mobiles Extended Range and Ultra Capacity 5G, we are reaching rural America, where people have been able to cope with below-average internet access for decades,” says Castle. “In fact, we already have rural households that run their entire home on our 5G home internet router.”
Carter says the potential benefits would depend on how the 5G providers handle the rollouts. “Each of the three big operators are trying to strike the right balance to roll out 5G across the country,” he says. “GWS has seen Verizon roll out mmWave in urban areas, while T-Mobile is prioritizing lower-band deployment and making 5G available in multiple rural markets.”
A problem that can be solved
Carter says the amount of spectrum available for 5G may be limited while 4G and 3G networks are still operational. “While the 3G shutdown date is slated for early 2022, there has been some reluctance from outside the industry to keep this generation of wireless networks going. It’s a move that would hinder the adoption of 5G as releasing that spectrum would allow operators to allocate it to enhance the adoption of 5G, “he said.
Some solutions to common 5G problems are quite intuitive, like Carter’s suggestion to consider consumer expectations from the start, while others may require a lot more capital and time. The bottom line is that most of the problems that arise can, to a large extent, be overcome.
“Companies solve the infrastructure problem known as the outside-in problem by placing an antenna on the outside of buildings to receive signals from a base station,” says Carpenter. “Once this signal is received, it has to run through something like a fiber optic cable and be amplified inside the building by another device such as a Wi-Fi 6 router or an internal 5G access point.”
When it comes to access points, simulation could be a solution, he continues. By simulating 5G signals and their propagation throughout the building, companies can understand the coverage area and optimize the number of access points. This eliminates the need for someone to walk through your office building on the phone and ask, “Can you hear me now?”
This may seem daunting at first, but Carter and most of the experts we’ve spoken to believe these are solvable problems, which means that 5G adoption could accelerate further, or at least remain stable, in the near future. For the first time ever, consumers are placing significant demands on 5G networks and where demand goes, supply usually follows.