02.23.2018Updated on 05.01.2018People

Why 5G is such a game-changer

By: Nicki Palmer & Ed Chan

In this Up To Speed podcast and accompanying story, Nicki Palmer and Ed Chan talk 5G: what it is, and how it will change the way we live, work and play.

image of Nicki Palmer, Ed Chan and Katie Regner during the podcast recording

From all the headlines swirling around 5G, it’s tempting to think that it’s just the next step up in wireless technology. Yet that view understates how absolutely transformative this technology will be. To put it mildly, there's a lot more to 5G than a smartphone moving a little faster on the network.

When Verizon is asked, “What is 5G?” we start with the delivery of gigabit-level services to individual customers. Our definition of 5G begins and ends with the real, tangible benefits we're bringing to the marketplace.

But before we look forward, it’s good to know where we’re building from. Broadly speaking, 1G was all about voice. That unleashed a lot of innovation. Because of breakthroughs made a few decades ago, we can now take our phones anywhere. When 2G came around, it was like a fine-tuning device for voice, but then we added a short-messaging layer on top. This is where things got more interesting. People's style of communication started to change.

To be able to lead on how 5G, as the world will know it, gets engineered is a huge responsibility, and not one we take lightly.

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When we went to 3G, we started to see a little bit more machine-like communication. And when 4G came, it was like a complete opening up, unleashing massive amounts of innovation. On top of better speed and better throughput, a gigantic ecosystem of connectivity was freed to flourish.

We often look back at how we built up 4G, at the things we invented along the way. And 5G is giving us that opportunity again. It is incredibly exciting to think that we’ve helped shape these cycles of technology in our careers; you don't often get these pivotal moments where you're bringing about fundamental changes in how people live, work and have fun.

To be able to lead on how 5G, as the world will know it, gets engineered is a huge responsibility, and not one we take lightly. We’re doing the essential work with municipalities to get it online, and leading on network standards for usage. It is a global race, and we’re at the forefront. The groundwork we lay today is going to pay dividends tomorrow. And as we deploy this network, we know that we will do it reliably, because we have decades of network know-how right here on our teams.

About that network: Years ago, we realized that the next generation of millimeter wave spectrum was coming to market and we needed to start leveraging it. As data demands increase and more devices get connected to the cloud, this spectrum has to be opened up. But what does that even look like?

Imagine you have a really wide highway. Now think wider—a lot wider. We’re talking tens of thousands of gigantic lanes. Customers are not just going to drive individual little cars down it. They’re moving a fleet of tractor trailers, at unrestricted speeds. That's what we’re delivering 5G on. That's what we mean when we talk about the potential of millimeter wave spectrum. And being able to scale that to the billions of connected devices, not just the millions—that's the new connectivity.

What’s the benefit to our customer? Let’s say the flight crew just alerted passengers to put their devices in airplane mode. With 1GB/second throughput, you’ve downloaded a few movies before they’ve even turned off their microphone. You can download things essentially in the snap of a finger. That’s pretty quick.

You can download things essentially in the snap of a finger. That’s pretty quick.

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Another fallacy about 5G is that it somehow replaces 4G. First and foremost, this isn’t a 5G versus 4G question. Our work on 4G is foundational for the work we’re doing on 5G. Every new cell site we put in the network, all of the new capabilities that we put in radios and on top of the towers, lead us to where we need to go, and it’s all predicated on 4G. Meantime, our award-winning 4G network remains the best in the business.

Verizon's approach to 5G is identical to our approach to any big challenge: to do things the right way, to do it with the customer in mind and to do it at scale. Lowell McAdam, our CEO, always says that it’s like we’re ushering in the fourth industrial revolution. Like us, Lowell is an engineer, and engineers don't make those kind of pronouncements without really surveying the landscape and knowing what it portends. Whatever innovations ride on 5G, we want to be sure that the network is outpacing any application's ability to consume it.

About the author(s): 

Nicki Palmer is chief network engineering officer and head of wireless networks at Verizon.  Ed Chan is senior vice president and chief technology architect at Verizon.  Follow Nicki and Ed on LinkedIn

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