Is 5G Versus Wired Broadband the Next Great War in Tech?

If you believe much of the media and carrier hype surrounding 5G (5th Generation), widespread adoption of this next-gen wireless standard will, in the not-too-distant future, completely replace traditional wired broadband. It is true that fixed 5G may someday prove a better option for certain consumers in isolated areas and others who don’t have access to dependable, high-speed wired internet. In reality, however, fixed 5G will never completely replace wired internet. With this entry—the first in a two-part series about 5G—we’ll discuss why wired internet isn’t going away anytime soon—if ever.

What is 5G?

5G is the next version of cellular networks currently under development by the four major cellphone carriers and others. The first generation of cellular networks emerged in the 1980s, enabling voice-based wireless communications via cellphone-to-cellphone or cell-to-landline. 2G technology, which gained widespread adoption in the 1990s and dominated into the early 2000s, brought a range of improvements. These included digitized voice-to-voice signals, digitally encrypted calls, vastly improved coverage and text messaging. With 3G, users could, for the first time, surf the internet from their wireless devices. 4G brought improvements in signal quality, penetration, dependability and speed, including the ability to stream internet video.

Why Fixed 5G Will Never Completely Replace Wired Internet 1: 5G is Vastly Undeveloped, but High-Speed Wired Continues Improving

No matter what you read in the media, the telecommunications industry is still quite a way from achieving largescale deployment of true 5G, including the technologies required for fixed 5G internet service. Once truly nationwide 5G networks are in place, it will take more time for them to mature and reach full potential in terms of speed and latency. Whether you’re talking about futuristic technologies or fixed 5G internet service as a replacement for home broadband, none of it has a chance until 5G comes of age.

Based on the state of things right now, that won’t happen for some time. This gives wired broadband providers lots of time to continue evolving and improving their technology, and it’s one major reason why fixed 5G will never completely replace wired internet. Where do major carriers stand, though, in regard to developing 5G to a point they can at least begin a serious attempt at replacing wired broadband?

The Verizon 5G Home Experiment

Companies like Verizon and T-Mobile have tested or are currently testing fixed 5G internet service as a replacement for wired broadband. Verizon 5G Home, for instance, launched to select neighborhoods in four test cities in October 2018. In March, however, marketing research firm MoffettNathanson released a study finding that Verizon 5G Home “isn’t practically scalable.” This study concludes that the technology needed to expand Verizon 5G Home is too expensive to realistically expect practical nationwide coverage anytime soon—if ever.

Other media outlets have taken note of 5G Home’s struggles, attributing them partially to the company’s buying into its own 5G hype and partially to its not being willing to take a financial risk and build Verizon 5G Home into a true nationwide network. To date, Verizon 5G Home has made no announcement regarding expansion to other cities or even expansion to current test markets. If you’re hoping Verizon 5G Home will offer fixed internet to your address anytime soon, this is troubling news. If 5G Home is the standard, it offers one more argument for why fixed 5G will never completely replace wired internet.

T-Mobile 5G: A Slow Evolution from 4G

As with its approach to mobile 5G, T-Mobile, meanwhile, is following a slow, measured path toward fixed 5G internet service. The company is currently testing fixed 5G service in the home, but there’s a big catch: This pilot program is offering fixed 4G LTE internet, not 5G. The program is also limited, with only 50,000 households trying the service by the end of 2019—by invitation only.

According to T-Mobile, the company’s proposed merger with Sprint is a big factor in its success regarding fixed 5G internet service for the home. T-Mobile claims that, if approved, the deal would make expansion and network development far easier and quicker. Otherwise, fixed 5G internet service from T-Mobile will be contingent on the company’s rollout of nationwide wireless 5G, which is progressing slowly. Additionally, the odds of a T-Mobile-Sprint merger aren’t looking good. All these factors, taken together, provide more fuel for the idea that fixed 5G will never completely replace wired internet.

Why Wait for 5G? GVEC’s Got the World’s Fastest Internet Technology Now!

Keep in mind that wired broadband providers like GVEC aren’t standing still while Verizon 5G Home and T-Mobile fiddle with fixed 5G internet service. Wired broadband is continually evolving and improving. GVEC, for example, continues to expand our fiber footprint—the world’s fastest internet technology—throughout the Guadalupe Valley. We’ll continue doing so as necessary in the years ahead, helping our region keep pace with the rest of the world and creating a brighter economic future for all. At this point, fixed 5G internet service for the home is little more than theoretical. GVEC Fiber Internet can deliver real-world speeds to your front door of up to 1 Gbps right now!

Why Fixed 5G Will Never Completely Replace Wired Internet 2: Fiber is the Future

Whether you’re talking about wired or wireless home internet connections, or mobile 5G, fiber is the future. “Wait,” you might be thinking, “is that right? How can a wired technology (fiber) be the future of a wireless technology (5G)?” You read correctly. Here’s the dirty little secret about 5G you might not know or often see in popular media: 5G cannot exist without fiber—and lots of it. This is the second big reason why fixed 5G will never completely replace wired internet.

What is Fiber Internet and Fiber Optics?

Fiber technology uses thin strands of glass to transmit data as photons (i.e., signals of light). Transmitting data over fiber lines has many advantages over traditional copper lines, which transmit data via electrons (i.e., electricity). These include vastly superior bandwidth, speed and security, a far longer lifespan, and much less energy consumption and physical weight. The light signals used in fiber technology are also immune to interference from electrical signals, including voltage surges. Fiber signals can also travel much further before degrading (12 miles at 10 Gbps maximum) compared to copper-line signals (300 feet at 1 Gbps maximum).

For Strong Fiber Networks, Dig Deep

To create a fiber network, telecommunications companies dig trenches throughout a service area and bury the fiber-optic cables deep beneath the ground. Here, they are less susceptible to weather and less likely to be accidentally damaged by activity in the area where they’re buried. In theory, a fiber line can carry almost infinite amounts of data, limited only by how many strands of fiber a connection is made up of. For example, the Marea subsea cable, completed in 2017 by Microsoft, Facebook and telecommunications infrastructure company Texius, is comprised of enough fiber to transmit up to 160 terabits of data per second.

The 5G Revolution Will Not Be Wireless Only

The 5G wireless standard, once fully deployed, will be great at transmitting and distributing data to wireless devices. Wireless systems, however, lack the flexibility of underground fiber for initiating new data and transferring it across miles and miles of geography. This is where fiber come into play.

Robust 5G technology requires networks of low-power “small cell” transmitters. Only small cells can process the high-frequency, millimeter-length radio waves used in 5G communications. To achieve the coverage and penetration today’s 4G users expect, these devices must be positioned closely together, in high numbers. Each small cell, in turn, requires a high-speed fiber connection fed directly into the device. Of course, each of these feeds must connect to a larger fiber network.

Fiber: The Only Option for Building the 5G Networks of Tomorrow

Some readers may be surprised to learn that this wireline-to-wireless arrangement isn’t new. In fact, although the majority of internet traffic terminates at a wireless device, up to 90 percent of all online data travels along a wireline connection before hitting the airwaves. With older standards like 4G and 3G, which operate at lower wavelengths, wireless cells are bigger, higher powered and don’t need to be as tightly packed as 5G small cells do. As a result, up until recently, with the advent of LTE Advanced, most wireline connections carrying 4G data were copper-based. To achieve 5G-level bandwidth and latency, though, and to accommodate the growing number of connected devices, fiber is the only wireline option up to the job. Fixed 5G will never completely replace wired internet, then, unless a wireless technology is developed that’s vastly superior. That seems highly unlikely.

The U.S. Fiber Problem = U.S. 5G Problem

By some estimates, fiber infrastructure in the United States is woefully lacking. In fact, significant segments of the U.S. population still don’t have access to wired broadband or have no internet access at all. Fixing this problem and transforming 5G from an exercise in what’s possible into a real-world reality will require an investment in fiber infrastructure of up to $150 billion. Without a significant investment in our country’s fiber infrastructure, then, 5G isn’t going anywhere—at least, not anywhere near its full potential, and neither will it get there quickly.

Get the World’s Fastest Internet Technology Now with GVEC Fiber

While the promise of 5G might seem like digital “pie in the sky” that won’t reach its full potential for years to come—if ever—GVEC offers the world’s fastest internet technology right now, right here in the Guadalupe Valley. For more information on GVEC Fiber call us at 800.699.4832, or visit our Internet Plans page.

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