What 5G connectivity could mean for smart cities

5G wireless connectivity has been much anticipated in the smart city space for some time. And now telecom companies such as Council Global Lead Partner AT&T and Australia/New Zealand Council Associate Partner Telstra are doing the testing and infrastructure upgrades necessary to deliver it. The expectation is that 5G will benefit smart cities in several areas, including supporting communications for driverless cars, enhancing smart energy networks and enabling cities to expand their use of IoT applications so they can provide more and better services — and that's far from a complete list.

A key takeaway for cities may be this: 5G is evolving technology and much work remains to be done before it's ready to speed up your world. The advice from several professionals in the industry is that cities take some of that time to  think about how they can collaborate with service providers because it will help ensure they can make the most of the new technology. — Doug Peeples


The consensus is that 5G is expected to be generally available in the U.S. by 2020, although AT&T, Telstra and others are committed to launching their services sooner. The U.S., China, South Korea and Japan are considered to be in the lead for 5G deployments, with Europe lagging a bit behind.

In February, AT&T announced it would roll out mobile 5G service in 12 cities by the end of 2018, including parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas.

As AT&T noted in its announcement, "After significantly contributing to the first phase of 5G standards, conducting multi-city trials, and literally transforming our network for the future, we’re planning to be the first carrier to deliver standards-based mobile 5G – and do it much sooner than most people thought possible," said Igal Elbaz, senior vice president for wireless network architecture and design.

The company is now deploying new hardware in cell towers that it says can be upgraded more quickly than today's equipment and operated at lower cost.

Telstra built a 5G testing center on Australia's Gold Coast in November in anticipation of running a test of the technology in conjunction with the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Last week it switched on a series of 5G-enabled Wi-Fi hotspots in a Gold Coast suburb as part of its testing. Residents and visitors get to enjoy the luxury of free broadband and the company gets to conduct real-world testing of its technology before it begins offering the service more widely.

"Taking 5G technology out of the lab and into the hands of consumers is another key milestone on Telstra's roadmap to offering SG services in 2019," said Mike Wright, Telstra's managing director of networks.

Why does 5G matter to smart cities?

While 5G won't likely replace 3G and 4G technology, most of the buzz about it concentrates on its ability to deliver substantially faster download speeds and low latency (the capability of moving massive amounts of data with very little delay). There are conditions that will affect speed, but Wright said his company's technology can deliver download speeds of more than 3Gps which, as he illustrated it, could handle simultaneous streaming of 1,000 HD movies.

Movies aside, 5G can benefit smart cities in several ways by improving connectivity and supporting IoT technology expansion such as sensors and other connected devices. Here are a few examples:

Transportation: Faster 5G speed will add capabilities to autonomous vehicles they wouldn't otherwise have to ensure they operate efficiently and safely and can communicate with each other and traffic control networks. It also will enable cities to better monitor things like parking meters, traffic flow and congestion and other components of their transportation networks.

Energy and water: 5G is expected to allow smart electric grids and water networks to reduce costs,, operate more efficiently and enhance security.

Public safety: The increased speed and capacity of 5G would give law enforcement and other agencies the ability to expand their surveillance networks and upload or download high-definition video transmissions much more quickly than they can now, a feature that would reduce their incident response times.

Health care: Telemedicine offers health care services that generally involve patients communicating with their care providers via live video and videochat apps like Skype and Facetime. 5G is expected to enhance telemedicine, particularly for patients in rural or other remote areas.

Those are a few examples of what's expected of 5G. More applications will certainly be developed and implemented.

Doug Peeples is a writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartcitiesanz on Twitter.