By Jared Pinder
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Cellphone carriers Verizon and T – Mobile have announced plans to bring the new wireless technology known as Fifth Generation, 5G network, to multiple cities in the United States, including Baltimore.
As one of the first areas in Maryland to welcome the new technology, local officials are weighing the pros and cons of such a move.
5G is a cellular network developed to make the next jump forward from 4G LTE, which most U.S. consumers have used for more than 10 years. The current 4G network is becoming overloaded because consumers have developed an increasing appetite for streaming videos and using data-heavy apps, according to telecommunications companies. Officials say the next generation network is needed and point to promises of improving smartphones, enabling driverless cars, allowing remote control homes and medical procedures. 5G should be able to carry more data up to 100 times faster than 4G because the fifth generation depends on so-called millimeter waves that don’t travel as far as the signals 4G relies on.
Although 5G promises a lot for its customers, company officials acknowledge it is still not ready to be fully released yet. In testing out the versions of Verizon and T-Mobile networks, the carriers have posted small cell boxes that transmit a signal to use the network.
Verizon, which is the largest carrier in the cell phone market and has the best network and coverage, offers a network that will not only be powerful, but also able to handle more applications on the network, said spokesman David Weissmann.
“5G is fast but its true power will be in the applications and devices that we develop as a result of the new technology,” Weissmann said. “Fast broadband networks enabled new technology that has fundamentally transformed how we live.”
Weissmann said that 5G will have a positive impact on Baltimore.
“5G represents a leap forward and a new opportunity to enable innovation in cities like Baltimore,” he said, noting that the city already had its first taste of the 5G network “in parts of M&T Bank Stadium.”
Weissmann said that the best places to put the small cells are in areas with activity.
“A small cell uses small radios and antennas placed on various types of poles like utility poles, streetlights, or new poles in the public right-of-way and they can also be placed on building rooftops,” he said, explaining that coverage will have a lot of range.
“The coverage area can range from a few hundred feet to upwards of 1,000 feet, depending on topography, capacity needs, and more,” Weissmann said, adding more traffic is allowed on the network.
“This small focused footprint supports the latest technology-enabled devices, allowing more consumers to use the network for ever more data reliant applications such as health monitoring, location services, and enhanced social media services,” Weissmann said.
Kaitlin Craig, the communications manager at T- Mobile, said that 5G can make life easier for people in Baltimore. T-Mobile is the third largest carrier in the cell phone market.
“The amount of applications the network can handle at once along with the speed of the network can really just make loading applications on your devices a whole lot easier,” Craig said, explaining that 5G will be the most powerful network that T – Mobile has had.
“5G has the capability to handle more traffic on the network while also being able to be faster than the networks we have currently,” Craig said.
Craig said that privacy will not be an issue to the citizens of Baltimore
“In this world, we care for our privacy so T- Mobile has put forth the effort to help people make sure that their information is safe,” Craig said.
The cost of such services provided by the 5G network may overshadow the benefits, said Amy Bartolac, the public relations manager at Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), Alexandria, Virginia.
“The network installation cost the city around $500 and these companies are going to charge customers around $70 to $80 for the network,” Bartolac said.
“This is going to cost the city and the customers a lot of money and I don’t see why we have to change the network that we have now,” she said. “This is going to benefit the people who can afford the network but it won’t benefit anyone else, including the city.”
Bartolac said that a privacy concern should be of major importance to customers.
“I would be worried if people were not concerned,” Bartolac said. “These companies are putting these small cell boxes up around these populated areas and people should be concerned for safety.”
Wiessmann stressed that the reason why the cities have allowed 5G is because of profit.
“Many of the early 5G cities have been excited to receive the service because they see 5G as essential to retaining and attracting businesses and innovators,” Weissmann said.
However, Bartolac said that the city would be better off using the money to fix other problems.
“The city views this as a chance for advertising and a way to make profit,” Bartolac said. “The city could use that money elsewhere to help actually fix the concerning problems with Baltimore.”
Jason Phillips, a loyal Verizon customer, said that he is excited for the new 5G network.
“I truly am excited for this,” Phillips said. “Verizon said that it will be a lot faster than what we have and I am excited to see what else it can make.”
Phillips said that he feels life is going to be easier with it.
“Our lives could be changed because of the amount of workload and how fast the network is advertised as,” Phillips said.
Amber Renfro, a T- Mobile customer, said Baltimore will be in a better place because of 5G.
“I like how fast the network will be, but I think companies are going to take advantage of this network and build better applications,” Renfro said.
Renfro said that privacy is a concern but trust that T- Mobile will do what is right to keep their customers safe.
“Security will also be a concern of mine, but I trust that T – Mobile has put security as a priority and has taken the necessary precautions,” Renfro said.
Local officials are reviewing several other issues including claims 5G equipment could be potentially hazardous, the networks bring pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that damage health and the radios and antennas placed on utility poles could lower property values.