First, there was word of mouth. Then came newspapers. Then came the internet—dial-up edition. Then came broadband. Then Wi-Fi. Then the internet was everywhere with mobile 3G. Then 4G. And now 5G is infiltrating cities with incredible speeds.
It's expected to let users download a 50 GB game in under two minutes or a 100 GB 4K movie in under four minutes, entirely on your phone.
Granted, that's if your phone supports 5G and you can afford the service markup with your cellular carrier.
On Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner participated in a roundtable discussion with Brendan Carr of the Federal Communication Commission, Shannon Buggs, director of Houston's Complete Communities, Lisa Kent, director of Houston Information Technology Services, and Majid Khan, managing director of Verizon Wireless' community strategies and business development office. The roundtable discussion announced that Houston's Complete Communities will have access to 5G, which requires smaller antennas to be installed for direct access, unlike 4G's satellite service through large, isolated cellular towers.
"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Turner said. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead." He continued saying 5G will be the next step in leading the nation in innovation.
Houston was among the first cities in America to get access to 5G services and by the end of the year, Carr expects 40 U.S. cities to have the infrastructure installed to support 5G.
As the 5G technology begins to roll out, concerns between the haves and the have-nots trigger a "great exclusion" possibility. Wealth segregation is replacing racial segregation as the income gap between the rich and the poor is the widest it's been in 50 years, according to the U.S. Census' annual American Community Survey. To get ahead of the race to 5G, Mayor Turner worked with cellular companies to loosen permitting requirements to install 5G throughout the city, including Houston's poorer neighborhoods.
"Every city and every neighborhood needs to be one of hope and promise and opportunity," Mayor Turner said. "There are many underserved neighborhoods and under-resourced, even in our great city, for decades. So how do we bring them forward? How do we make sure that the children and the adults in every community have access to the tools that they need so that they can take care of themselves and their families?"
Even with the news of Houston's rollout of 5G in the Complete Communities, concerns about 5G remain, including a lack of consumer demand, an unclear return on investment for companies, and the enormous initial investment into building the smaller-scale, neighborhood-focused towers, which look a lot like a usual telephone poll.
According to recent HarrisX research, most business decisionmakers (72%) believe 5G will be worth paying more for, but consumers are split on its value. Only 24% of wireless subscribers say they would switch to a new carrier for 5G, and only 19% say they'd switch to a new device to access 5G.
One concern, caused by fake news from Russia, was the health risks of 5G, which there are none, according to Carr.
"Russia has been falling behind the U.S. in the build-out of 5G and they tried to slow it down by spreading misinformation about the safety of it," Carr said. Continuing, he reassured everyone that the technology is safe.
Additionally, there are concerns over who has access to phones capable of supporting 5G speeds. Currently, there are only a select number of manufacturers in America who have products that support 5G speeds, and the phones cost more than $1,000 in most cases. LG, Samsung, OnePlus, and (kind of) Motorola have phones supporting 5G, meanwhile, Apple, Google, and HTC don't have any, yet. Though, there are rumors for new releases to be 5G compatible.
"What does it mean to a community if they hear about 5G, but it's not available for them?" Mayor Turner said. "So it is incumbent upon companies to make sure that we are investing in all of these communities so that we don't leave anyone behind. They need a low cost, but high bandwidth. We do say in our city, that we recognize that we all benefit when everybody benefits," Mayor Turner said. "And quite frankly, we lose if other people are left out."