Local, state officials assess Valley’s 5G needs

McALLEN — A global technological shift is underway, and local leaders are ensuring that the Rio Grande Valley takes vantage of it.

Moderated by RGV Partnership President and CEO Sergio Contreras, state and local officials together with technology-based industry representatives discussed the dawning of 5G technology Thursday afternoon at the McAllen Convention Center. The event, “5G for the RGV,” was hosted by Futuro RGV and Code RGV.

The fifth generation mobile network, 5G, was engineered by Qualcomm Technologies, a telecommunications equipment company. While the first generation introduced analog voice, 2G launched digital voice and texting, 3G initiated mobile broadband for wireless internet access and 4G and 4G LTE improved the speed, 5G is expected to eliminate almost any delay in connectivity.

Drew Lentz, founder of Code RGV, far right, speaks during a panel discussion about the future of 5G network connectivity in the Rio Grande Valley. (Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com)

The latency of 4G, which is the measure of the time it takes for a message to get from one destination to another, is about 200 milliseconds, faster than human reaction latency, which is 300 milliseconds; 5G will reduce latency to 1 millisecond.

Additionally, 5G will condense the time it takes to download material. According to Qualcomm, the time it takes to download a movie under 4G takes an average of six minutes. With 5G, it would take 17 seconds.

“It’s near instant reactions,” said one of the five panelists at the event, Drew Lentz of Code RGV.

Besides the opportunity for quicker social media outlets, Lentz emphasized what 5G would mean for health care.

“It would introduce remote surgeries because data no longer has to reach anymore,” he said. “Someone could be performing a surgery from another country or continent with the immediate reactions.”

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, another panelist, explained how it would assist in emergency cases.

Martinez said that about 80% of 911 calls are made on mobile devices, and that 44% of hospital readmissions have been reduced because of remote monitoring. He also stressed that ambulances now have the ability to send 3D images of a patient’s heart to ER physicians before they get to the hospital.

“These are the types of technology we already have at the back of an ambulance,” Martinez said. “And using 5G makes access a lot easier to download information and get it to the ER as soon as possible.

The RGV Partnership hosted a panel discussion in McAllen Thursday on the future of 5G network connectivity in the Rio Grande Valley.
(Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com)

Scott Dunaway, Texas 5G Alliance representative added that amongst the new innovation opportunities that 5G technology will offer, he looks forward to the capabilities of the new network that are still undiscovered.

“I think that the unknown is the most exciting part; what will this level of speed and connectivity unleash on this front.”

But Lentz also said that the new technology can “only be as fast as the infrastructure.”

The shift from 4G to 5G requires the infrastructure to support this kind of wireless technology. Though 5G offers speed, a major difference between the generations of mobile networks is that 4G towers cover significantly more. Instead of depending on the towers that are in place now, 5G would rely on “small cell” base stations, which are low power and short-range sites that need to stand closer together.

The deployment of the 5G network depends on a backbone of fiber, a network that McAllen has already built.

The fiber connections feed nearby power-towers, which are base-stations responsible for emitting signals to wireless devices. McAllen has 65 miles of fiber running through the city, and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said it will be necessary to ensure underserved communities will also see the benefits of 5G networks, which is classified as a public utility.

“Our main concern is that if we are going to deal with 5G as a public utility, which means you have the right to use right away, then it ought to have the obligations of a public utility, which means providing services to areas that it does not normally provide to,” Darling said.

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, center, speaks during a panel discussion on the future of 5G network connectivity in the Rio Grande Valley. (Dina Arévalo | darevalo@mvtcnews.com)

Martinez took part in the passing of Senate Bill 1004, which created a statewide and standardized framework for the deployment of 5G technology. Effective September 1, 2017, the bill was passed in the Texas legislature with 29-0 in the Senate and 140-6 in the House of Representatives.

Lentz asked the audience, “How many people do you think living in colonias go out buying Macs when they hit the store shelves?” The room fell silent. “How many of them have one of these?” he followed, holding his phone up in the air.

Lentz said reiterated that the communities that will see the benefit of 5G technology are areas with supporting infrastructure.

He added that it is not a matter of whether the region is going to decide to implement the new network, the conversation is about how well the city will support the technological movement.

According to Texas 5G Alliance, mobile data traffic has grown 18-fold over the past five years, and is expected to grow 12-fold by 2021. And, while the average data traffic per smartphone averaged about 5.1 gigabytes per month in 2016, users are expected to use 25 gigabytes per month in 2022.

“It’s a global race,” he said. “It’s going to happen.

“It’s going to happen because the carriers want to provide the best service possible to their subscribers, and they want their subscribers to be back to consume as much data as possible. It’s up to us if we are going to give them the ability to use the locations in the city to provide that service in a manner that is going to serve us better.”