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Posted on: January 9, 2019

Sacramento gets ready for 5G test drive

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In October, Sacramento, Calif., became one of the first cities in the world to go live with the 5G wireless network, the next generation of cellular technology. Benefits the city expects include, of course, making available a high-speed, high-capacity telecommunications network, but also smart city applications to improve public safety and mobility.

To make 5G use possible, the city entered a public/private partnership with Verizon in which the company will install intelligent traffic technology at “problem area” intersections and set up Wi-Fi in parks.

According to the 2017 contract between the company and city, Sacramento is deferring up to $2 million in lease payments on Verizon’s 101 small-cell towers on city-owned assets over 10 years, while Verizon gets streamlined permit approvals for wireless and wired network deployments.

The company is offering 5G in three other cities so far: Houston, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. Globally, other carriers are working to get 5G up and running in Qatar, Africa’s Lesotho, Finland and Estonia. The long-awaited technology, which comes with promises of faster speeds, lower latency and more security than its predecessors, is poised for real-world applications.

We sat down with Sean Harrington, Verizon’s vice president of city solutions, to find out where things stand with 5G.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

GCN: There’s a lot of promise in 5G for smart cities. What are some of the benefits cities can expect?

Harrington: The biggest areas for them to benefit from 5G are around increasing public safety and improving the way that they manage mobility in the city, which has benefits to the citizens as well.

One of the ways that public safety is improved is through the use of video -- and not just raw video, but video with video analytics. Today it’s quite expensive and cumbersome to deploy video throughout a city because if you want to backup all that video, you have to put in a wired network connection to it in order to get all the full-res video back. But with 5G, we’ll be able to deploy video far more efficiently by using a 5G wireless connection to that video as opposed to always having to go dig up streets and pull new fiber.

On the transportation front, as we move toward this world of autonomous mobility, the way that we’re going to do so efficiently and safely is by leveraging data that comes from the vehicles … but also data coming from the infrastructure. That data could be video, could be Lidar or could be other sensor [data] that is collected from streetlights and traffic signals distributed throughout the city, and it can be used in real time with very low latency to better inform the movement of those vehicles around the city.

GCN: What back-office applications will 5G improve?

Harrington: There will be far more -- an order of magnitude to two orders of magnitude -- connected devices and assets that are city-owned, -operated or just even managed as we transition into this world of 5G. It will become far more cost-effective and feasible to put connectivity into devices that weren’t previously connected, whether those are police cars or streetlights, traffic signals and traffic cabinets, video sensors, etc.

When you say back office, that really means there’s asset management and data aggregation. And taking advantage of that data through machine learning and [artificial intelligence] comes with the transition of 5G because there’s just going to be so much more data coming from sensors and devices that are deployed out in the field.

GCN: A major component of smart cities is the internet of things. What do smart cities need to manage IoT data and how will 5G enable that? 

Harrington: I think of the internet of things as in part as putting connectivity into a device that was already in use somewhere in a city or in a home … to understand its status. That is certainly happening with smart parking meters, for example.…  We’re able to determine in real time which areas of the city have more parking meters being occupied than not and that can inform enforcement officers and so on. We’re also deploying new sensors. Blanketing a street with a traffic-detection sensor that is powered through video -- not just putting a radio in a streetlight. This is actually about putting in place a whole set of new sensors and new devices to enable greater efficiency, safety, cost savings.… 5G effectively enables effectively the bandwidth of a wired connection but wirelessly, which means lower latency. So it provides the ability to process data in single-digit millisecond latency vs. hundreds of milliseconds of latency as well as the compute and storage and analytic capabilities near the edge of the network.

GCN: Is it also better in that it is more secure and requires less power?

Harrington: The network is designed to manage billions of devices vs. millions and to do so in an energy-efficient way. Certainly, [5G offers] a significant energy-efficiency improvement over LTE on a per-unit-of-data bandwidth throughput. As we go from one generation of technology to the next, there is an emphasis on continually improving the security protocols that are used.

GCN: What stage is the technology in now? 

Harrington: We’re excited to have launched our first four markets with 5G Home in 2018, Sacramento among them. The same infrastructure that is used for the 5G Home service -- which is the in-home broadband fixed wireless internet service that we’re offering to residential customers with gigabit fiber-like speeds but through that wireless 5G connection -- we are using with some initial smart city use cases in Sacramento. We’re validating the 5G application features and use cases in the near term, and then we’ll be looking to roll those into full-fledged product offerings that leverage 5G starting in 2019 as the 5G footprint continues to expand across the U.S.

GCN:  What should cities consider in terms of getting connected?

Harrington: The recommendation we have is to really make sure cities are being thoughtful and preparing now for 5G because it is here. This is not a future, aspirational technology. It’s being deployed as we speak. Cities should determine what they are trying to accomplish and what they have now.  And then that will start to lead to a plan and better-informed conversations.

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