Wireless Test Bed Launches, Bringing 5G to New York Streets

HOST INTRO:

New wireless technologies are poised to reshape the internet yet again. In labs, researchers are clocking internet speeds ten times faster than current cellular connections. But just because it works in a lab, doesn’t mean it will work in the real world.  Academics are launching a new wireless test bed to work out some of these technical challenges.  But to get 5G working cities also requires leaping some political hurdles. For more we go to Kasiana McLenaghan.

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The next generation of cellular technology, called 5G, is going to be super fast.  Like, download a hundred high definition movies at once fast.

Ted Rappaport is a professor in both Radiology and Electrical and Computer Engineering at NYU. He spoke at the Brooklyn 5G Summit earlier this week about this technology’s future.  He thinks 5G’s speedier connections will bring people closer together through seamless virtual experiences, in fields ranging from medicine,

RAPPAPORT 1: doctors doing remote surgery on their cell phone to people hundreds of miles away

…to more intimate interactions…

RAPPAPORT 2: Grandma, Here’s your daughter and your grandkids sitting around with you in your living room on a 3D platform and you feel like you’re right there with them even though they’re across the world.

To create these connections, 5G uses higher radio frequencies. But those shorter radio waves don’t travel very far. And they can also be blocked by things as flimsy as tree leaves or rain drops.

In theory, with enough base stations carriers could still blanket a city with 5G coverage. Gil Zussman is an Electrical Engineering professor at Columbia University.  He says exactly how that will happen hasn’t been worked out yet.

ZUSSMAN 1: No one actually took it out to the streets and covered a big chunk of a city and tested these technologies with you know, people moving around really trying to use it for some kind of applications. All of those things will be tested there.

The National Science Foundation has granted researchers 22 million dollars to do that. Zussman is standing in a conference room, 14 floors up, surveying the buildings of West Harlem through floor to ceiling windows. The blocks below are a jumble of Columbia buildings and public housing, sliced down the middle by the elevated 1 subway track.  This complexity is part of why the team chose this area – they want to see how 5G’s radio waves will flow around this landscape.

ZUSSMAN 2: Wireless transmissions propagate like a wave. If you throw a stone into the water, you see the wave propagating right? So if you look downstairs, they try to propagate between Teachers College and the subway and so things will bounce off walls, and will become more complicated. (0:17)

To test the technology, researchers are planning to install 50 cell sites in this one square mile of Harlem.

PANETTIERI 1: People want to have cell reception, but they don’t want to see ugly towers everywhere.

Angelina Panettieri works on telecommunications policy for the National League of Cities, a municipal advocacy organization. She says that when this technology goes live that test bed density could quadruple, since each cell carrier will need to have a radio on every city block.

Traditionally cities have been able to regulate cell tower aesthetics and access to public assets, like light poles or municipal buildings. But telecoms companies are now lobbying state governments and federal regulators to override those local considerations.

PANETTIERI 2: They’re looking at limiting what cities can charge for rent for access to public property. They’re also looking at limiting how long cities can take on considering applications.

These efforts are part of carriers race to lock up equipment sites. They’re all looking ahead towards coming competition over which one has the nest 5G network.

The West Harlem test bed will be ready to go in a year and a half, and will run for three years after that.  5G-enabled phones are expected to hit the shelves in 2019.

Kasiana McLenaghan, Columbia Radio News.

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