Verizon recently announced that it will begin 5G trials this year. Wow. That was fast. Everyone just got 4G or LTE. Public safety is only beginning to adopt LTE and now there’s a new thing. Some of this is marketing. International standards bodies and industry groups are still working out what 5G will look like. The standards aren’t finished but the demand for more and faster data is growing and Verizon and others want to be seen as the leaders. As public safety starts to incorporate 5G timelines into its planning, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- 2020 is the target date: While Verizon might be testing in 2016, 5G is only slated to begin rolling out in 2020. Whether it will be widely available then is another question. Some argue that we don’t need another technology in that timeframe and should focus instead on ensuring better coverage and use of 4G or even 3G for that matter. They question the consumer demand for the data rates that 5G will provide at the associated cost. In my opinion, the demand for data intensive applications like streaming video and the Internet of Things (IOT) will most likely ensure that 5G will find a receptive audience. Public safety in particular will need access to the kind of capabilities 5G will create. Whether it is 2020 or 2022, 5G is a key part of public safety’s medium term planning.
- Small cells, MIMO, and New Spectrum: Much of the promise of 5G rests on making networks denser and using new spectrum bands with high throughput but very short ranges. That means deploying more cells that are smaller and cheaper, using more antennas to increase capacity through a technology called massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple output), and using untapped, unlicensed, or under-used spectrum bands between 3 and 300 GHz (sometimes referred to as millimeter wave spectrum). It’s important for public safety to understand some of the architecture and terminology around 5G so they are more familiar with its advantages and vulnerabilities.
- It’s all about IOT: Again, there’s a bit of marketing with the term IOT. The basic concept behind the IOT is that a combination of ubiquitous mobility enabled by smartphones, wearable technologies like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, and sensors embedded in everything from corn fields to refrigerators will form a new kind of Internet. This Internet will involve more machine to machine communications that produce huge quantities of data. Algorithms will then comb through that data to find new and more efficient ways to do things. It also means automating processes to increase efficiency. The possibilities that the IOT creates for public safety are enormous.
- Cyber Security is crucial: Not that this is news to anyone after all the high profile hacks over the last few years but 5G and the IOT will require far better security than we have today. Automating the “things” on the Internet make them susceptible to hackers. Public safety and other customers must make clear to providers that tight, end-to-end cyber security is a must before adoption truly accelerates.
How do you think public safety should prepare for 5G?