Space & Innovation

5G Mobile Gets One Step Closer to Reality

Fiber-fast wireless will make video chatting buffering-free and advance self-driving car technologies.

The 4G connection that currently connects your mobile device to the wider world may let you stream a YouTube video from the beach. But the 5G network of the future could give you the bandwidth to enjoy a beach-front VR experience wherever you happen to roam.

That's how Tom Wheeler sees the future of networking shaking out, with wireless cellular connections deftly sending down large amounts of data that we currently need "fat cables" to transmit. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Wheeler's in a position to do something about that.

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This week, Wheeler plan to circulate rules for identifying and opening up 5G bandwidth, with a vote to follow in July. If the proposal passes, the U.S. would be setting aside high-band spectrum to develop 5G applications, making it the first country in the world to do so, according to Wheeler.

Wheeler made his remarks in a speech today at the National Press Club, where he described the need for next-generation 5G mobile high speed connections as a matter of innovation that "must be a national priority." 5G remains a way's off from happening -- the first 5G deployments aren't expected for another four years, but the 10 to 100 times faster speeds Wheeler talked about today are a reminder of why so many people anticipate 5G's arrival.

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5G's faster speeds open up the possibility of running more sophisticated applications over networks. Wheeler specifically called out virtual reality, but other possibilities include self-driving cars and connected devices exchanging more real time data. Among the benefits of 5G are improved responsiveness, from about one-hundredth of a second to less than one-thousandth of a second. That reduction in latency could lead to benefits like cutting the lag out of cellular video-chats.

For those who are sick and tired of their limited home internet options, 5G could also provide a boost. Wheeler pointed out that Verizon has talked up 5G connectivity as a way to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas, and while consumers promised ubiquitous FiOS may be suspicious of that claim, Wheeler said that "Fiber-fast wireless connectivity will deliver that long-sought goal of competitive high-speed Internet access for consumers."

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The FCC doesn't plan to define the details and limitations of 5G, Wheeler said. "Turning innovators loose is far preferable to expecting committees and regulators to define the future," he added. That's the same formula the U.S used to roll out 4G networking, Wheeler says, as it looks to "lead the world in spectrum availability, encourage and protect innovation-driving competition, and stay out of the way of technological development."

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