Just when digging up turf on your lawn to lay down fiberoptic cable for communications upgrades is being completed, the next step in high-speed mobile service for the First Coast is on the cusp of implementation.
And speeds for communications are really going to speed up.
While fiberoptic cables still will be used, the pending installation of the newer upgrades will be less obtrusive. “Small cells” will soon be attached to utility poles; what are basically transmitters are about the size of a phone book (remember those?) and will be placed on those poles.
Smart phone owners have probably noticed that little “4G” logo at the top of their mobile device screen. Well, multiple communications companies will be upgrading that to 5G.
When 5G is in place — possibly by the end of 2018 — the interconnectivity between mobile device users and appliances are going to be radically different on the First Coast and just about everywhere else.
“I think your average user is going to experience another evolution in speed and capability of their device …,” said Brian Gentry, chief technology officer at Jacksonville’s iMobile3 LLC technology firm. “It will be a 10-fold increase in terms of what they’re able to download and how quickly they’re able to do it.”
That term 5G: It means the fifth generation of wireless communications following the fourth generation now in use.
To give a level of scale between the generations of wireless technology, when 4G started taking hold around 2009, it replaced the 3G technology that might have required a day to download the data to watch a movie. Under 4G, it might take a few minutes. Under 5G, only seconds.
In addition, Gentry said, 5G is going to make connectivity to all kinds of devices — such as kitchen appliances, autonomous vehicles and other products — almost standard.
5g coming to Jacksonville
Many of the familiar communications companies are preparing to add 5G technology to the Jacksonville area
As of now, those companies are gearing up to lay the network to support 5G as Florida lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott are finalizing regulations after the Federal Communications Commission approved U.S. standards about a year ago.
AT&T has already spent about $250 million in the past three years upgrading the fiber optic broadband network in the Jacksonville area. But that paid for the lines being laid below ground, which brings wi-fi and television service into homes and businesses.
The 5G network ushers in the “small cell” technology. Currently, cellular transponders are bulky and placed on specially designed large towers more than 100 feet high.
The 5G small cells can simply be added to existing utility poles around any municipality, said Joe York, AT&T state president for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
York declined to say how many would be installed in the Jacksonville area, but it will likely be thousands. He also declined to provide cost estimates of the installation and service of 5G, citing competitive concerns.
Regardless, it will be a major overhaul of communications as we know it, York said.
“If you think back to the last 15 years in the evolution of this wireless network, it’s essentially been the same network with these large macro towers that everyone wants the benefits of, but nobody wants to see in their back yards,” York said.
“It doesn’t require [the small cells] to be attached to a 120-foot tower. You probably won’t even notice them.”
The “macro towers” will still be used, but the need for adding the larger towers will sharply diminish. There also will be diminishing need for the ground lines that have been laid in neighborhood after neighborhood in recent years.
countless uses for 5G
Some of the small cells already have been added in some cities, York said. There are more than 400 municipalities in Florida alone and each has its unique regulations. But it was the Florida Legislature that stipulated that communications companies work with those municipalities. That measure is still being finalized but municipalities get money from the communications services tax. There is no permitting fee for the communications companies, but there is a $150 “attachment fee” for each small cell that will be attached to a utility pole. One utility pole can handle a few small cell devices each.
Angela Mattia, associate professor and chairwoman of the department of Information Management at Jacksonville University, said she doesn’t see smart phone 5G upgrades coming within the next year for most consumers. But she said that’s acceptable considering the changes that will happen in communication.
“You could see smart wearables. I mean things that could be in your clothes, embedded,” Mattia said.
Mattia said there are likely applications of 5G that can’t even be imagined yet.
While there may be some access to 5G in 2018, Mattia said it likely won’t be readily available to all consumers until about 2020.
The need for the change isn’t coming from the communications companies, York said. The demand is coming from consumers as he noted over half of the current drive for data use is based on video streaming. That’s up from about 30 percent just five years ago, he said.
“There are going to be other elements of demand … obviously the phones are primary,” York said. “But we’re not just talking about 5G for phones. We’re talking about driverless cars, internet themes, smart cities, aspects and applications and tools that will be there for our first responders, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and connected homes.”
Gentry’s company produces mobile applications and software for payment services for credit services. For his business, Gentry said programming mobile apps will be more sophisticated.
“We can write applications that are a little richer in terms of what they can send and receive in a single burst,” Gentry said.
Gentry acknowledged many of his clients, which include merchants, are not necessarily technology enthusiasts. They just want access to whatever brings in the most customers.
He said that means in places such as shops or restaurants, 5G will allow a merchant to add many more customers to a hot spot for connectivity. Wi-fi hot spots can get overloaded and limit access quickly, but 5G will allow many more customers to access a merchant’s system.