5G & the Evolution of Smart Cities
5G technology is about a lot more than just the ability to download a flick to your phone in five seconds.
A panel featured at this month’s NYC-held CE Week show addressed its potential impact on the quality of livability, workability and sustainability beyond entertainment and smartphone performance. But before those benefits can be realized, infrastructure that will serve as the foundation for the development of 5G-supported smart cities needs to be put in place.
That issue, and others, were addressed by the panel members. Moderated by Jason Nelson, executive director for partner engagement for the Smart Cities Council, the group included Jim Lockwood, CEO and founder of Aero Wireless Group, Rob Pegoraro, tech journalist for USA Today/Yahoo Finance and Joshua Ness, senior manager of Verizon 5G Labs, who offered their insights on how smart cities will be able to harness 5G’s power.
One obvious application discussed was the area of law enforcement and in improving the effectiveness of first responders answering the call to service; that’s where drones with significantly higher-resolution cameras come into play. Another aspect of the discussion addressed how municipalities can embed 5G into their street planning designs. Lockwood pointed to New York City’s LinkNYC, an advertising-funded communications network that already provides free public Wi-Fi, phone calls and device charging along with access to city maps, as a first step that has been taken. As of mid-June, according to the LinkNYC web site, it is providing 1783 active links within and beyond Manhattan. The deployment of “smart pole” technology is another step, where network capability will be brought to the garden-variety streetlight – and share real estate with it. This solution, said Lockwood, can even accommodate lithium-ion backup battery storage for power outages. He noted that underground cells of this type could have helped Puerto Rico’s power needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The Smart Cities Council, said Nelson, has found that departments within municipalities are often “silo’ed” and not in communication with one another – a possible impediment that must be solved for 5G to be embraced within cities’ infrastructures.
As 5G implementation occurs in municipalities, Nelson noted, the movement could foster an evolution in consumer devices as well, to the effect that “you could be walking around with a $50 device in your pocket versus a $1,000 phone.” That evolution, in turn, could eventually lead to the building of “an ecosystem of personal devices that communicate to the 5G network.”
As the smart city blueprint is developed, protection of data privacy needs to be addressed – an issue also broached by the panel. “Building in privacy needs to be part of the discussion,” Pegoraro said. “5G won’t change data breaches.”
“Cities will have to evolve in how they handle the technology, as the technology evolves,” said Ness. He added that carriers bear a responsibility in this scenario as well. They “have to be good partners with cities and towns we go into in the collection and processing of data.”
An overarching concern, the panel seemed to agree, is getting municipalities up to speed about 5G – “getting the decision-makers to understand its purpose,” as Lockwood phrased it. “They see it as using resources they don’t have – tearing up streets, etc. That could be a roadblock to deployment, and municipalities need to be educated as to its importance.”
“Cities need to get out in front of this,” Nelson stated. “It has the power to bridge the digital divide, especially in disadvantaged communities, so they don’t get left behind.”
Verizon, for its part, said Ness, is promoting a ‘Built on 5G’ Challenge contest open to smaller U.S.-based companies. According to a description on the Verizon web site, it will award funding and access to Verizon’s 5G Lab for the best products, services and applications that it is determined will “bring the power of 5G to life.”
What can be done to set the stage for the 5G future to make the concept of change more palatable to municipalities?
Some answers, suggested Lockwood, include developing smaller form factors and avoiding “pole overload” so that systems remain reliable but also attractive if they are outside and visible to communities.
Pegoraro suggested that at this early stage of the game, perhaps some of the 5G hype relating to smartphones needed to be dialed back. “I’m in the market for a new smartphone and 5G is not on my shopping list. Two years from now, yes.”
Nelson pointed out that “5G is just a means to an end. Every city is different.” Aging in place and home diagnostics are only a small part of the list of applications where 5G could benefit the communities where it is deployed. “It all depends on what the key drivers for communities are. But they need to start to embrace the concept today.”
Ness added, “5G is more than just faster Internet – there are other benefits and values to be created for customers. Cities not adopting it will be left behind, with repercussions of lost revenue.”
Without a doubt, Ness said, “5G is coming like a freight train.”