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The 5G Conundrum: Who Will Build Tomorrow’s Digital Superhighway?

We all have a similar vision of the future. We walk out the door of our house and the lights go out automatically. We wait for an autonomous car to whisk us off to our evening plans while we talk to a close friend that appears to be standing there with us, suspended in augmented reality. Remembering that we forgot to start the dishwasher to get ready for the house party we have tomorrow we pull up a display menu and start the process without missing a beat. As the car pulls up we jump in.

Our car already knows where to go but wants to know if we want to continue watching the newscast that we had been watching at home. The change in temperature coming from the crisp evening air is uncomfortable for a second but out jacket adjusts to let our body heat escape. We enjoy our ride to our reserved table at the hot new restaurant in town all while complaining to our friend about the mistakes we think the government is making with their latest adjustment to the monetary policy (some things will never change).

For this future to exist, all of our physical assets, cars, appliances, buildings, clothes, will need the ability to communicate with each other and us. This will mean exponentially more data will need to be moved around and process. To do this we will need a new an entirely new telecommunication infrastructure.

5G internet seems to be this answer. But rolling this technology out large scale will be a large task. Since the distances that 5G broadcasts are much shorter, it will require antennas to be put throughout cities. This will likely create a lot of value in commercial real estate since many of those will need to be placed on buildings in crowded areas. It will also be huge new industry for telecom.

Tech companies all around the world are pouring money into developing their 5G technology. Many of them, the largest, Huawei in particular, are Chinese and have strong ties to the Chinese government. This casts doubts on whether or not they should be used for what would be such an essential part of our future. The U.S. state department has already pressed its allies to stop using Huawei to avoid what might be one of the world’s biggest backdoors for espionage. New Zealand has already banned the use of Huawei products for its 5g network.

But, where politics fails enterprise often succeeds. Yesterday the MIT Technology Review published an article about companies that are installing 5G in factories and laboratories to replace Wi-Fi. This could spark the 5G revolution long before we see it rolled out nationwide (or even in select cities). Companies like Starry have already seen growth in creating these 5G systems inside of buildings. Turns out, if we want the future that we are all envisioning, then we might have to build it ourselves.

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