Major wireless carriers in the U.S. have been hard at work to deploy a nationwide 5G wireless network, but there will be a key question raised regardless of who does it first—will everyone have access to the network? Wisconsin-based WiConnect Wireless is working to make that question a non-factor at least locally, The Wall Street Journal reports. The rural broadband company, founded by David Bangert, is working to ensure connectivity is available to homes that might not have it otherwise.
WiConnect Wireless currently comprises nine employees and brings broadband Internet to about 1,400 rural homes in seven counties. For the past 14 years, WiConnect Wireless have delivered Internet to these homes with different wireless technology solutions like miles-long relays of Wi-Fi base stations. The emergence of 5G could be a game changer, however. The next generation of wireless connectivity has made less expensive hardware, free and open-source software and less regulated, more accessible spectrum available. This convergence has allowed WiConnect Wireless to reach new customers and offer connection speeds that have eluded rural Wisconsin residents to this point.
The connectivity might not match what people in cities are accustomed to, but this technology is not much different what’s allowing 5G networks to operate in automated factories, warehouses and even military bases. Companies of all sizes are now developing their own private 5G networks. Not like the networks that the latest iPhone will work on per se, but instead more localized networks that can keep nearby sensors, machines and computers working in tandem. These networks will also permit communications with the outside world when necessary.
Companies in different industries have used private 4G cellular networks, which are often more customizable than a big carrier’s existing network. The private networks are also more reliable and secure than Wi-Fi. 5G will let more companies sidestep traditional service providers, and build their own networks with even more bandwidth.
“In this world it’s kind of like feeding the beast; always more more more, gotta have more,” Bangert told The Wall Street Journal. “As everybody transitions to streaming video, online meetings, online school, every device connected and all-consuming bandwidth, what used to be just fine is now limiting, and I don’t see that changing.”
CBRS helps make private 5G networks possible
Spectrum, the range of radio frequencies participating devices must adhere to, is one of the key parts of any wireless cellular network. Until recently carriers had the inside track to spectrum because they could afford to pay billons at government auctions to gain exclusive access to wireless spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently leveled the playing field when it made part of the mid-band spectrum available for commercial use. The portion of the spectrum, Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), is available to just about anyone who wants to register for it. Users just have to specify where and how they want to use CBRS for their private network. The U.S. government has not made a piece of spectrum this accessible to public since 2003 when airwaves in the 5-gigahertz range were opened up for Wi-Fi, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Now, a company or individual can create a private single site 5G network for less than $5,000, according to FreedomFi Chief Executive and founder Boris Renski. FreedomFi sells a version of open source Magma software to businesses. It won’t just be small businesses looking to create their own 5G network however. In 2019, Deloitte analysts predicted that more than 100 companies around the world will have started testing their own 5G networks by the end of this year. Some of those companies include Ford Motor Co., BMW and the U.S. Military, which has invested $600 million in five separate projects.
The versatility of a private 5G network
When wireless carriers tout their 5G networks, they often talk about how fast users will be able to stream and download data on their mobile devices. Companies creating private 5G networks are seeing the value beyond faster download speeds and smoother video viewing, however. For example, a mid-band 5G wireless signal can move fast enough that it can get through obstacles, eliminating the need to run cables to connect machines.
Meanwhile, faster connection speeds make it easier for the robots and automated devices companies use in their warehouse to get a better sense of their surroundings. The latency, the time it takes a signal to get across a network, must be low in any environment where robots count on remote computers to process what they’re seeing and tell them how to react from moment to the next. Private 5G networks are making that happen more reliably than most wireless options. Clearly Private 5G is a technology on the rise and it’s anyone’s guess just how popular it becomes.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.