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The Real Meaning of 5G, iPhone 12 Pro and the SpaceX Race to build Satellite Broadband

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Above: Photo Collage / Lynxotic / Adobe Stock

The Confusion around 5G goes far beyond the political-nonsense conspiracy theories

Most articles on 5G since the Apple iPhone 12 launch event on October 13th have been looking in the rearview mirror to predict the future: 5G will “disappoint” due to the slow buildout, technical limitations of the format, and various issues with all the competing systems and carriers, and these arguments are casting doubt on the much touted potential. 

Read More: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Models are Coming Immediately and There’s More

This perspective misses the point on so many levels, it’s difficult to know where to begin to unpack the myriad of misunderstandings.

Much of the technical discussion has been focused on the various flavors of 5G and the associated limitations and advantages of each. The fact that the fastest 5G, which goes by the sub-category moniker millimeter wave, is not instantly available everywhere for the 5G capable iPhones, and that they will not be in the hands of most consumers before next year, has been met with feigned shock and bewilderment.

And further, many highlight the confusion mounting over the various providers and the various flavors: 5G, 5G E, 5G UW or 5G+ as they are designated by “service indicators” on the iPhone 12 itself.  Verizon Communications Inc., T-Mobile US Inc. and AT&T Inc. each have their own systems they have developed and are building out – looking for a piece of the 5G market, expected to be around $1.15 trillion by 2025.

First and foremost – since Apple and iPhone are the leader of all innovations in the marketplace – not necessarily by the sheer number of handsets sold, but by the focus on increasing technical and aesthetic quality, and appealing to the top demographic, not to mention the majority of early adopters, it is precisely the fact that, until now, the iPhone 5G handset did not yet exist, that the buildout is not further along. 

The fact that, in real-world tests, it is already performing at up to 7 times the fastest previously available connections, was coupled inevitably with the caveat; physical locations where these speeds can be accomplished are currently hard to find. 

Due to the technical issues with this ultra-high speed version of 5G; the inability to travel more than very short distances and the lack of ability to penetrate obstacles or walls, the possibility to get these amazing speeds are, at present, more likely to be found at outdoor locations. 

This is, admittedly, an odd conundrum, but you can be sure, with the upcoming massive increase in competition for ISP customers, it is one that will find at least some viable solutions very soon. There are many billions at stake for those that can find ways to improve this issue. 

“Standing in front of a camera store in South of Market, I got 5G speeds reaching 2,160 megabits a second, which was 2,900 percent faster than 4G. Even where it was a tad slower — behind the Safeway parking lot in the Marina district — the 5G iPhone drew speeds of 668 megabits a second, which was 1,052 percent faster than 4G.”

 – Brian X. Chen for the New York Times

The carriers have not had the market to build for, and needed to be pushed by a huge influx of iPhone 12 owners. Then, meaning now, they will begin to compete with one another for that extremely lucrative group of users. That rising competitive battle is not the only one looming on the horizon. 

Regardless of the ultimate time frame of the build-out, there is an obvious and very meaningful conclusion that we can reach here: 1 year from now things will look very different in the options available for those who want to work and play with the help of a faster internet connection (meaning, obviously, everybody).

RankCountryDownload Speed (Mbps)Upload Speed (Mbps)# Download Tests# Upload TestsNo. IPs
1Liechtenstein199.2839.78969810
2Hong Kong112.3291.4047825589933
3Denmark107.7866.022149522217912
4Switzerland93.6041.4465614743501907
5Netherlands93.4827.5889478939709044
6Sweden91.3686.0420812238752071
7Iceland80.1924.3031443555
8Finland79.4018.39948710395526
9Andorra76.6756.2015917633
10Bermuda74.2119.2758963146
11San Marino61.899.76433
12Norway58.9549.7313841142982083
13United States54.9910.4519723352126398364898
source: fastmetrics

As can be seen from the chart above in early 2020 the US ranked 13th in desktop download speed while mobile speeds ranked even worse coming in at #33 (various sources have US at #10 for fixed broadband). Liechtenstein is nearly 4x faster, on average, than the US. Also note that the highest average is one-tenth to one-twentieth of the eventual “ideal conditions” speeds of 5G.

Failure of the US Broadband infrastructure and the coming shake-up in the ISP system grid-lock

The problem is not a technological one. The US lags behind due to the pseudo-geographical monopolies held by various ISPs and the ability they have enjoyed to be able to gouge customers with high priced, bad service. Lack of competition often results in slow progress, or no progress. 

That is all about to change. You don’t need to have a technician to analyze the various 5G systems, or compare carriers chances of “winning” to realize that the very fact that speeds and options are increasing exponentially is going to re-write the map when it comes to who controls the cash-cow subscription gravy train. That system is about to collapse.

In steps Elon, and his little copy-cat-side-kick Jeffy Bezos, and the landscape is about to become unrecognizable

First, 5G speeds rival or exceed the former fixed / desktop speeds which had commanded a premium for the geographically entrenched providers. 5G home systems will be available in many areas that will be competitive in speed, price and convenience.

Read More: Elon Musk broadband milestone as SpaceX Starlink Public beta begins, nearly 800 Satellites Orbiting

SpaceX’s Starlink, with nearly 1,000 satellites already in orbit out of an eventual 12,000, with launches continuing almost weekly with 60 in each launch, is a serious project. This ambitious plan will eventually encircle the Earth completely with interconnected satellites that will link through intermediary “ground stations” with up to 1 million planned for USA alone. Each ground station is just under 19 inches (.48 m) across.

“It looks like a UFO on a stick,” according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk “It’s very important that you don’t need a specialist to install. The goal is for … just two instructions and they can be done in either order: Point at sky, plug in.”

Satellite Broadband, such as SpaceX’s Starlink will not only add ubiquitous 100mbps and higher, low latency coverage, it will also cover the same areas with high population density, major cities, where both current systems and 5G are also focusing. 

Exact pricing is as yet unknown, but it is very likely that there will be a high-pitched battle over customers, once the various systems go into the next phase of the rollout. And all of this is not factoring in additional players in 5G and satellite systems.

Longer term (2 years +) there will be major world-wide implications of this shift, toward more and faster options in internet connectivity

The first shift, primarily driven by the geographical independence of satellite broadband, such as Starlink, will be a decentralization of populations at massive scale. While we are looking at a world where, due to the current pandemic countermeasures, WFH a.k.a. work from home is becoming more than a temporary factor. As many as 20 major companies such as Google and Microsoft have announced extended or permanent work-from-home policies as of October 2020. 

There are plenty of very serious discussions about what will be done with all the skyscrapers and office buildings once there are no workers to fill the offices. This is not idle chit-chat. A migration has already begun away from the insanely overpriced rents and home prices to take advantage of the work-from-home-anywhere approach.

Extrapolate, based on increased speed and availability of connectivity to millions of locations not currently viable, will soon have internet at minimum speeds rivaling the current world champion Liechtenstein (see above), and you see the beginnings of an exodus of epic proportions. Just in time for economic upheaval, due to the aftermath of the still ongoing global pandemic, and yes, the issues of accelerated global warming, which will, coincidentally, affect costal “elite” cities like Miami, San Francisco, New York and others around the world to a disproportionally large degree. 

“The reality is that a technological utopian vision, one where the world is able to shift to sustainable energy and regenerative farming, and create economies based on prosperous and equal distribution of the wealth generated by those systems (along with AI plus robot technology (powered by sustainable clean energy), can only be realized by an acceleration of learning and positive social change.

-DL

These changes, to be clear, are not all “bad” nor are they all the cause of negative side-effects such as the current covid-19 outbreak. 

Read More: “Kiss The Ground” Documentary Offers Hopeful Remedy To Climate Change Focusing On Soil Regeneration

The reality is that a technological utopian vision, one where the world is able to shift to sustainable energy and regenerative farming, and create economies based on prosperous and equal distribution of the wealth generated by those systems, (along with AI, robot technology powered by sustainable clean energy), can only be realized by an acceleration of learning and positive social change

Change is urgently needed to build out the human networked-communication-system that will enable the learning and cooperation which is the only hope for the survival of our species. 5G, the iPhone 12 and SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite Broadband are going to be huge factors, in making the first baby-steps toward that change, possible. 


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