5G For Everyone!

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I have spent a lot of digital ink on the hype-machine called 5G Cellular.

Well, I am not about to stop now 🙂 . Sorry.

Honestly, my complaint is NOT about the tech or its importance, but rather how long it is going to take to get enough infrastructure working to make the claims somewhat match reality.

So, while the traditional companies like Verizon and T-Mobile are running around the country installing as many cell towers as they can afford (I saw a stat the other day that says that Verizon’s 5G reaches 1% of the population), other folks are trying different strategies (T-Mobile and AT&T reach much larger groups of people, it is just that their version of 5G is no faster that what you have today with 4G). Here are two.

British startup Stratospheric Platforms wants to fly liquid hydrogen powered high altitude pseudo satellites (pseudo because they only stay up there for maybe a month or two at best) to provide connectivity. There are lots of places that need it, from me (rural America) to Africa and many places in between. They tested a prototype over Germany, flying at 45,000 feet, and using a 4G phone – not a 5G phone – got speeds of 70 megabits a second down and 23 megabits up, which is QUITE respectable. The problem, of course, is to do that at volume.

This is similar to Google’s loony idea called the Google Loon. The Loon is balloon based and Google has already gotten FAA and FCC approval to fly their loony thing over disaster areas to provide free Internet.

But there are a couple of problems with all of these solutions.

One is that they are solar powered (for the cellular part, not the airplane part) and that doesn’t really give them enough power to scale. A small nuclear reactor would work – like they use on satellites – but what could go wrong?

The other thing is landing the beast to refuel. While real satellites burn up on reentry (hopefully) and last for years, these things would need to land every month or so and you certainly don’t want to throw away that many pretend satellites. Credit: The Register

SpaceX, also has a similar dog in the fight (except it is using more conventional, but still low orbit, satellites) has announced pricing for rural America. $99 a month for speeds that vary from 50 megabits a second to 150 megabits. Plus $500 for the equipment. Given that is 2 to 6 times the speed I get now (on a good day), for a slightly more expensive price, I might try it. SpaceX figures that even though the FCC says everyone has access to broadband Internet (they include high priced, low performing traditional satellite providers like Hughes), SpaceX more accurately says that 40% of rural America has NO broadband. Since even farmers need high speed Internet to power their GPS controlled tractors, this might be an easy sell. Credit: The Register

Here is the good news.

SpaceX is basically here now (at least in beta). While the FCC has been pretending that there is no problem as a way to protect the big cable companies (I wasn’t aware that was in their charter), all of these startups are working on ways to nibble the incumbents to death.

This doesn’t count Facebook’s plans to launch a couple of thousand satellites to provide Internet, nor does it include Dish’s plan to do the same.

SpaceX plans to launch 12,000 satellites by itself.

I do know a promising career. Keeping track of tens of thousands of near space objects. That is going to be a task.

While none of helps those of us in the Internet desert TODAY, the fact that all of these companies are competing for our money dramatically improves the odds of getting something in the next few years.

One other thing.

While many cities have limited the number of Internet providers by regulation and some states have actually banned cities from going into the Internet business, this falls under the control of the FAA and FCC. While they continue to lie about broadband availability today, they seem perfectly willing to allow these billionaires to spend billions of dollars trying to solve the problem and do not seem to want to limit competition.

Which is good for everyone in the Internet desert.

Stay tuned.

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