North Texas to be at forefront of the 5G revolution | Crain's Dallas

North Texas to be at forefront of the 5G revolution

Crown Castle added a small cell node to an existing power pole. The technology will eventually broadcast 5G networks in densely populated areas. | Photo courtesy of Crown Castle.

Live video streaming takes a toll on cell phone infrastructure, especially when there’s a large crowd all demanding data in the same place at the same time.

Consider the explosive growth of the internet of things. This IoT world has several billion connected devices today but could have 20.4 billion worldwide by 2020, according to the Texas 5G Alliance.

“The runway is endless when you think about the explosion of the internet of things,” said Scott Dunaway, spokesman for the Texas 5G Alliance, a group that advocates and educates for 5G networks. “We’re still dealing with the same size pipeline. We continue to try to access a greater amount of data. We need to expand that pipeline.”

The first 5G speeds could hit the airwaves by the first quarter of 2019 and it will ramp up even more in 2020, Dunaway said.

“Then 5G enabled devices will actually be hitting the market,” he said. “We believe 5G technology is really a connectivity race. This is infrastructure that is coming. We want Texas and the entire state to be a leader across the world.”

So why do we need this?

Consider that the average smartphone handled 5.1 gigabytes of data per month in 2016 and that number could increase to 25 gigabytes by 2022. Handling all that data means greater bandwidth needed—and 5G is 40 times faster than existing 4G networks.

This means more network infrastructure is needed, especially as the big wireless carriers prepare to roll out lightning fast 5G networks in the next few years. Wireless carriers have already said North Texas will be among the first to tap into the 5G revolution and companies like Ericsson and Crown Castle are preparing the region’s infrastructure for that now.

Historically, that’s meant adding more large, imposing cell phone towers, not always a welcome sight in a community.

The network of the future

But new small cell technology can extend wireless networks into densely populated areas while seamlessly blending into the existing infrastructure. Crown Castle’s Irving office is working on solutions that can hide on an existing street light or within a large building or stadium.

“This is not a fad. The small cell networks are the next wave of wireless infrastructure,” said Carmen Rajamani, director of government relations and small cells and fiber solutions for Crown Castle. “Because they are closer to the user, that infrastructure allows for greater wireless service to be provided with greater capacity. It’s helping to offload usage by nearby towers. Residents get the service they demand without a lot of additional visual clutter.”

These internet beacons are geographically targeted, each one spreading the network over a radius of up to 750 feet. The equipment is getting smaller and can accommodate multiple cell carriers at a time.

The city of Dallas has piloted a smart cities initiative in the West End of downtown that includes an interactive touchscreen, new LED lighting and, as of this week, free wireless Internet.

Crown Castle has been working with the city of Dallas on several small cell initiatives as well. The company’s Dallas office is seeking permits for more than 200 small cell nodes throughout Dallas.

“We’re making great strides in coming up with solutions so we can both get to where we want to be,” Rajamani said. “We’re partnering with all kinds of innovative companies for our infrastructure.”

That includes exploring the future of distributed data centers and edge computing that put the servers closer to the end user.  

Crown Castle is also working with several Dallas suburbs, including The Colony and Frisco.

The company has partnered with The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and several sports venues throughout the state.

The 5G and IoT

Peter Linder, 5G customer engagement marketing for Ericssonsaid 5G won’t have a blanket launch like previous network upgrades. Instead, it will focus on high-traffic areas like sports stadiums and concert arenas where there’s high demand. He used the example of thousands of people broadcasting on Facebook Live from a Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium.  

This technological revolution isn’t just about speed, however. It’s also about reliability that could accelerate the development of IoT devices, Lindersaid.

Right now, devices like virtual reality goggles, Amazon Alexa and others must have onboard processing, which requires a larger device, more power and a higher cost. With a 5G network, the energy it takes to transmit from end-to-end is greatly reduced because more of the computing is done at the server end.

The 5G network makes edge computing and edge networks, where the network is closer to the end user, a reality, Linder​ said.

“That allows you to move the processing and batteries that you have inside your goggles and put them in the network instead,” he said. “We can make cheaper and simpler things that don’t need to carry all the battery and processing power on board.”

April 13, 2018 - 10:10am