Recently, Canada’s leading telecommunications provider TELUS announced that it was beginning the rollout of what is known as 5G mobile phone service. All the major telecom companies have 5G plans almost out of the box, but Vancouver-based TELUS has grabbed headlines for a relatively small-scale rollout in Victoria.
Rogers followed soon after with his first activation, and Bell indicated he was ready to go but gave no details. Two of the big three, TELUS and Bell, have been somewhat paralyzed as the federal government extends its review of Huawei’s involvement in Canada’s telecom sector. Canada was the last of the Five Eyes countries (along with the UK, US, New Zealand and Australia) to ban Huawei technology, as well as that of ZTE, from communications infrastructure, for national security reasons and knowing that the company was essentially an extension of the Chinese Communist Party.
What wasn’t part of TELUS’ press release is that this first iteration of 5G, or fifth-generation technology, is really nothing like it. It’s basically a rebranding, an in-between step if you will, and nothing at all like what was promised several years ago when 5G labeling first surfaced. Coinciding with this, of course, was much of the hysteria about “radiation” entering our homes and, presumably, our bodies, at the high frequencies envisioned for 5G at the time. But that’s fodder for another column.
For most of us, typical 4G mobile internet connections are more than sufficient when it comes to streaming music or watching HD video content, but that hasn’t stopped telcos and handset makers to roll out what they bill as 5G technologies that will eventually see a slew of home devices connect directly to telecom antennas.
As engineer Wolfgang Rupprecht of Fremont, Calif. notes, the 3500 MHz spectrum rollouts, announced by TELUS, fall far short of the much higher frequency of up to 24 GHz that was supposed to be the range of the 5G.
Rupprecht observes that when 5G was announced, with this 24 Ghz spectrum, it promised huge amounts of bandwidth and would allow the user to enjoy extremely fast downloads. Then, he notes, companies decided it might be cheaper to just rename all low-frequency, bandwidth-limited transmitters to 5G. These 3500 MHz or 3.5 Ghz frequencies, referred to by some providers as midband 5G, are part of this big name change.
Don’t be fooled, he said. It’s not quite the 5G we were promised. It’s basically a cosmetic makeover. According to the original specs, true 5G is in the millimeter wavelength range, colloquially known as mmWave in the industry, around that 24Ghz part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Rupprecht goes on to add that he thinks consumer confusion about 5G will eventually run rampant and he thinks there will be a backlash when customers realize their new $1,000 “5G” phone won’t. cannot use the new millimeter wave transmitter that has been set up in front of their house. He says that for his part, he can’t know if his brand new Google Pixel 6 Pro handset can receive “real” 5G. It seems that there are several versions of the Pixel 6 Pro for different cellular carriers and some of these versions can receive millimeter wavelengths, and some cannot.
In Fremont, Rupprecht notes, telcos have recently installed numerous antennas and transmitters on streetlights, presumably of the millimeter wavelength variety, though it’s not clear if any are still active.
We have yet to see such neighborhood deployment here in Metro Vancouver. For my part, I would be happy if my handset, on the TELUS network, could actually make phone calls from my home. Usually I have to walk down the street to get a stable signal. In other words, renaming my service to 5G is not going to help my unusable 4G service!
5G technologies are certainly very promising, but it will be years before we see anything close to the original hype of the telecommunications industry. Yes, eventually, maybe only in city centers at first, we will see mobiles with speeds that can view an HD movie downloaded to the device in about a minute.
As the full 5G spectrum, low, mid and high band varieties roll out, consumers will want to know what their expensive handsets can handle. If it is only low and medium, there will surely be some disgruntled customers when they find out that one-minute movie downloads through the new neighborhood antenna are inaccessible to them because their mobile does not have high-speed 5G. .
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