MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now, if you're like me, you may not know exactly what 5G is, the so-called fifth generation technology. But we are all going to be hearing a lot about it very soon. An international race is underway to control this emerging technology. So we are digging in on this month's All Tech Considered.
(SOUNDBITE OF ULRICH SCHNAUSS' "NOTHING HAPPENS IN JUNE")
KELLY: 5G promises faster Internet, better video streaming and real-time traffic reports. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, some experts say 5G will also propel innovation in transportation, manufacturing, medicine and in areas we still can't anticipate.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: There is a lot of buzz around 5G. Not many people have seen it in action. I'm lucky enough to get a demo.
What do we got here?
JOHN MACIAS: What we have is a basic speed test that will do a series of downloads to assess the downlink.
SYDELL: John Macias, an assistant performance manager for Verizon, is showing me a speed test on a laptop in his truck. We're in a suburban neighborhood of Sacramento, Calif., one of only four cities where Verizon has deployed 5G. Macias says people will really enjoy 5G speeds when it comes to downloads.
MACIAS: Imagine downloading HD movies in a minute rather than half an hour.
SYDELL: And 5G is wireless, but it's a bit different from the wireless we're used to. Current cell towers covers several miles, but they are as big as pine trees. 5G cells are about the size of a laptop, and they only cover about a couple thousand feet. But they can easily be installed on telephone and light poles. And 5G brings lightning-fast speed without a fiber cable directly into the home. Verizon Vice President of Network Engineering Phillip French.
PHILLIP FRENCH: So you're not ripping up the street as much and you're not trying to go in someone's house and deliver the fiber there. One of the biggest advantages is just that.
SYDELL: Sacramento is a mid-sized city of about a half a million people two to three hours from Silicon Valley. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is using 5G as part of his pitch to lure businesses.
DARRELL STEINBERG: If you are a small business or an entrepreneur and you are trying to make it in the Bay Area and you can't, don't move to Seattle. Move to Sacramento.
SYDELL: Steinberg spoke as we drove over to a 5G cell downtown. He says getting 5G is about more than downloading movies faster. We step out of the car a half block away from a traffic light. The speed of 5G-connected cameras allows real-time monitoring of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. High-speed wireless is going to be important to self-driving cars and trucks, which need to communicate rapidly with each other and traffic signals.
STEINBERG: We want to be on the forefront of autonomous vehicle technology.
SYDELL: Steinberg also wants to draw more manufacturing. Experts say 5G will send assembly line robots new orders faster. It could enable doctors to examine a patient in an ambulance before they arrive at the hospital. One of the biggest changes for consumers will be when smartphones with 5G connections begin to hit the market later this year. Frank Gillett, a principal analyst with Forrester, says there will be more uses for apps with augmented and virtual reality.
FRANK GILLETT: That let you hold the phone up and see an overlay of a Tyrannosaurus rex charging down the street. And because it can quickly send rich pictures down to your phone, the idea is that all that will work magically better.
SYDELL: While there are a lot of hopes for 5G, there are some concerns that more Internet-connected devices will create new opportunities for hackers and for mass surveillance. But that's not stopping the wireless companies. AT&T has started a limited rollout of its 5G service. Sprint and T-Mobile will follow. Later this year, Verizon says three new 5G smartphones will be available. But Sacramento Mayor Steinberg is hoping 5G will fix something even more basic.
STEINBERG: You know what'd be a real miracle?
STEINBERG: No dropped calls.
SYDELL: Now that's dreaming big. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio, as in a previous Web version of this story, NPR incorrectly identifies John Macias' title. He is a systems performance manager for Verizon, not an assistant performance manager.]
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