Wireless Experience: The Evolution of 5G and the Future of Wi-Fi

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March 26, 2018
Connectivity Trends
Trevor Warner - trevorwarner@warnerconsultinggroup.com

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Even though many of us in the industry attend several of the same conferences and tradeshows every year, at the end of the year I tried something new. HTNG brought to my attention the Wireless Global Congress which began just as HX:The Hotel Experience wrapped up in November. HTNG had been invited to speak about the state of the hotel industry and asked Jeff Parker, VP of IT at Red Lion Hotels to represent the industry.   
 
The primary focus of the conference was the evolution of connectivity. Selfishly I was attending to see how connectivity was viewed outside our industry and how we could use that information to be prepared for the pending changes. It was a great conference that provided us with information that we could bring back and apply to our industry.
 
What We Believe We Know about the Future
Starting with the rollout of 5G by 2020, we see a significant (unprecedented) jump in speeds. Full 4K movies download in seconds thanks to millimeter wave bands (extremely efficient) from 28-60ghz that produce 200 meg to 1 GIG connections per device. Latency is significantly reduced, costs come down and speeds skyrocket. 
     
If you think 5G isn’t coming, consider this. According to an Engadget article published Jan. 30, 2018, Axios discovered a report that the Trump Administration was so concerned about China’s involvement in the evolution of 5G that they were considering taking over 5G and making it a government-run 5G network. Quick background, China has been accused of spying and it’s serious enough that the government is taking big steps to hurt China financially. In a separate article the same day in Engadget it was revealed that both AT&T and Verizon are dropping Huawei smartphones from their product lines. Bad product? Lack of support? Neither, Huawei is leading the charge if 5G devices but is owned by a Chinese company. AT&T and Verizon will have the largest 5G network and it’s rumored that with the purchase of Straight Path, Verizon now has the ability to cover the U.S. with 5G today. AT&T purchased FiberTower and is not far behind. Both companies plan to roll out 5G this year with Sprint and T-Mobile to follow.  
 
5G is a game changer but it’s not a stand-alone game-changing technology. It is just a piece of the puzzle that needs help to make up for what and where it can’t deliver. The evolution is a unified network (a.k.a., the wireless ecosystem) of multispectrum bands. That is typical tech lingo for a lot of technologies providing an extremely efficient and fast connection experience that’s seamless as you jump between both physical connections as well as unique technologies. The future isn’t one technology, it’s the seamless integration of multiple technologies such as MulteFire, 5G 802.11ax and more all working together behind the scenes – the licensed spectrum working hand in hand with the unlicensed spectrum.  
 
According to Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs and CTO of Nokia, the digital solution (network) needs bandwidth, latency, scalability, reliability and security. That doesn’t come from one technology. His focus as CTO of Nokia is MulteFire, which provides cellular (LTE) performance with the simplicity of a Wi-Fi deployment. MulteFire creates a short to medium-range connectivity deployment that can be secure and fast. 5G provides a medium to long-range deployment that is even faster. Wi-Fi provides a very short-range connection that can also be fast and secure. In this simple example, combine the three and you’ve got the fluidity to be mobile and never lose connection, speed, latency and security. The customer never knows what network or technology the device is using, they just know it works. 
 
Consider in the IoT future where a 360-degree video requires 500 MB (HD live video is roughly 4 MB) while an antonymous vehicle needs less bandwidth but greater range. The IoT creates a necessity for low-powered wide area network technologies to provide cheap, easy access to IoT applications.  
 
Smart cities are the current buzz and play a significant role in the evolution of connectivity. The federal government recently narrowed down applicants to seven cities – Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco – all of which had a wide variety of ideas from autonomous shuttles to move city residents, to electrify city fleets, and to collectively equip more than 13,000 buses, taxis and cars with vehicle-to-vehicle dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology. The final winner, Columbus, Ohio, was awarded $50 million by the US Department of Transportation. In full disclosure, I live in Columbus. The city will likely spend 10 times the prize money to implement 50 percent of what they planned. According to the submission, Columbus will establish a smart corridor connecting underserved neighborhoods to jobs and services. The smart corridor will enhance bus rapid transit (BRT) service by installing smart traffic signals, smart street lighting, traveler information and payment kiosks, and free public Wi-Fi along the route. Six electric, accessible, autonomous vehicles will be deployed to expand the reach of the BRT system to additional retail and employment centers. The goal? Reduce infant mortality rates based on lack of access and speed of access to healthcare.
 
New York City has implemented LinkNYC. At former payphone locations, the city partnered with Intersection (digital display), Qualcomm (5G) and CIVIQ Smartscapes, to remove the payphone booth and install a new multipurpose terminal that provides device charging, digital display, emergency services, and most importantly, free fast Wi-Fi. More than 400 terminals have been installed so far with the eventual goal of 7,500 in the fiber boroughs. AT&T launched a plan called AirGig to provide Wi-Fi through the power lines. It’s a simple, low cost installation that can be implemented almost anywhere there is a power line. The first U.S.-based trial is with Georgia Power in rural areas of Georgia. If you are riding horses in the countryside with Rich you can now stream video of cowboys while pretending to be a cowboy. The original driver for this technology was high-speed access to rural areas but the technology will fill a far larger role if it’s successful. It is easy to install, easy to maintain, and the infrastructure is already in place … everywhere.  
 
Tying all the technology connecting together is the next hurdle. Passpoint/Hotspot 2.0 is a technology that is an example of how to make all this work behind the scenes. Basically, you’ve already loaded your credentials and the connected networks work together to authenticate you across multiple platforms. It is seamless roaming, in theory. Like all technologies, it still needs some work. At the conference, neither Jeff nor I could get it to work on different platforms. Others at the conference had success but the connection was extremely slow. If Jeff wasn’t with me I’d claim user error but with two tech-savvy user failures we blamed AT&T. 

One of the great movie lines is from “Field of Dreams.” As Ray (Kevin Costner) marches toward the baseball diamond, upset he’s not invited to leave with the team, he looks at Shoeless Joe Jackson and says, “What’s in it for me?” As a hotelier, we want to know the same thing. 5G, the connected world, IoT, Wi-Fi, Passpoint and licensed/unlicensed spectrum – what’s in it for me? In the immediate future, nothing changes. Guests still demand great Wi-Fi and we don’t have any options to offload the cost to provide great Wi-Fi. As IoT and wireless ecosystem evolves the long-term answer is we don’t know. Monetization of Wi-Fi plays part in how this evolves, specifically for hoteliers. If the trend is open seamless networks, then what’s our motivation to invest locally at our property? The obvious answer is the network is a necessity to attract and keep the guest. But if my property can receive great coverage from another technology such as 5G, why would I invest the money? 
 
That’s an open-ended question because right now there is no answer and that answer likely will change five times in the next few years. Monetization is the unknown that could be the easy answer for our motivation to continue investing in a local network. 
 
For now, it’s the status quo but changes are coming. 
 
 
Trevor Warner is the Chef de la Direction at Warner Consulting Group. He can be reached at Trevorwarner@warnerconsultinggroup.com


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