Carrier caution is one reason 5G service won’t replace 4G overnight. The ginormous costs associated with building 5G networks is another.
It’s no coincidence the countries which are farthest ahead in 5G deployment are those where the government is footing all or most of the bill: China, South Korea, Qatar, Switzerland, etc. Countries banking on for-profit carriers like Verizon and AT&T to shoulder the full financial burden are places where 5G is moving more slowly. These are places where 5G service is available in a few contained spaces such as sports arenas or the stock exchange.
The reason 5G cellular networks are expensive to build has to do with how the technology works. True 5G utilizes millimeter waves on the high-end of the radio spectrum — waves which can only transmit over very short distances. Making matters more challenging, these millimeter waves have trouble passing through walls, trees, humans, even rain. So, in order for 5G networks to function the way they are designed to, small antennas must be placed every 200-1000 feet. The antennas work together as coordinated phased arrays to deliver continuous, instantaneous service.
If installing antennas every 200-1000 feet doesn’t sound very practical consider this: There are approximately 13 million utility poles in the U.S. If every utility pole were fitted with a 5G antenna the estimated cost would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 billion. That $400 billion would deliver 5G service to only half of all U.S. citizens — those living in the most densely populated urban areas. Because of short transmission distances, people living in rural areas will not enjoy the benefits of 5G anytime soon, or perhaps ever — causing the digital divide between urban and rural communities to grow larger with time.
When it comes to the full price tag of 5G, installing millions of antennas is the tip of the iceberg. Experts estimate that 8 miles of fiber cable for every square mile of 5G cells are also needed. As well as significant investment dollars to develop 5G compatible devices, new security and troubleshooting systems, and so on. Which brings us to another reason that countries which lead the world in 5G are also countries where the government has an active hand in building the new infrastructure: security.
5G has the ability to connect 10x more devices within a square kilometer than 4G, which, regrettably, also means bad actors have 10x more access points to the network. Compounding the exposure is the fact that there are millions of interconnected antennas and many more miles of cable to protect. Let us not forget that 5G networks are also software dependent — making them more vulnerable to security breaches than 4G. Given these considerations and others, is it realistic for a government to expect for-profit telecom companies to be responsible for securing an infrastructure on which an entire nation depends? Probably not.
This article is Part 3 of a series, "Everything You Need to Know About 5G." To read Part 1 — Click Here Now. To read Part 2 — Click Here Now. To read Part 4 — Click Here Now.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist and futurist. She is a world-renowned expert in the field of “fast adaptation” in complex environments. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. Her first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," was released in 2017. For more information visit www.rebeccacosta.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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