The future of cell service is 5G, but what will it cost consumers?

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

How fast you can download a movie on your iPad, or call a car on Uber without waiting forever for it to load? Right now the fastest service most of us can get is 4G. How much better is a 5G, or 5th Generation, wireless network?

“5G is speed. It accelerates the ability to speak on the phone. It accelerates the ability to download on your phone, or your laptop or other devices,” said Joel Bloom, president of NJIT.

“What they can do with this network, with this level of speed and low latency, unbelievable what can be done,” said Verizon vice president Anthony Lewis.

Lewis shared his vision of a 5G world at a recent conference convened at NJIT by New Jersey’s Alliance for Action. He explained the old cell towers don’t cut it and 5G needs an expanded network of smaller, more powerful cell transmitters and miles of fiber optics to handle all that data.

“We’ve started with 30 cities around the country, this 5G build, but it is a build. It is putting nodes in the ground, running fiber,” Lewis said. “We’re putting in these small cells in and around, for instance this campus, or in and around a train station, or in and around a sports stadium to help with capacity. This will also enable the new levels of technology.”

It’s a massive planning and construction job, but new tech, like smart, green buildings and driverless cars, won’t function without it.

“Smart highways, driverless cars, that’s all about construction. You can’t just put a driverless car on an, excuse me, dumb highway. It’s got to be a smart highway,” said Bloom.

“Engineers, contractors, business labor union leaders, people who do a lot of this work, all of this work requires a backbone, whether it be a cell tower or whether it be a tower on a building,” said New Jersey Alliance for Action president Philip Beachem.

The 5G infrastructure’s already getting installed in parts of select cities like Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. A couple of Jersey towns have hosted pilot programs.

The cost? Communications companies surcharge customers from $10 to several hundred dollars depending on the level of service. 5G cellphones can cost over $1,000.

“Well the pricing hasn’t been designed yet, but if you look at what’s happened over time with the other networks — from 2G, to 3G, to 4G — it really depends on your individual usage. There are plans for everybody,” said Lewis.

And there’s politics. Much of the 5G hardware could come from China. Security’s paramount.

“We have to redouble our efforts, and that means money, and it means resources, and it means intelligence about how do we protect our technology,” said Bloom.

A seamless 5G world is still years away. It’ll take time to build up the infrastructure and guarantee cybersecurity, but it’s the future.