Despite FCC announcement, 5G cell service will not be coming to Salt Lake City soon

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Some Salt Lake City residents were under the assumption that they would have early access to 5G wireless coverage after an FCC announcement was misunderstood.

The FCC announced that Salt Lake City would be one of two cities designated as a 5G “innovation zone.” The designation allows researchers more flexibility and capacity, but it will not directly benefit consumers or residents of Salt Lake City.

“This is a grant from the National Science Foundation that Salt Lake City, the University of Utah and Rice University worked to secure,” Salt Lake City director of communications Michael Rojas said. “What the grant basically does is it makes Salt Lake City a testing ground for the cellular companies and the universities to test the full capability of 5G and even go beyond that to 6G and 7G.”

Many people are looking forward to using 5G service in the future, but Salt Lake City residents will have to wait with the rest of the country despite the FCC’s latest announcement. Average speeds for 5G are still unknown, but some reports claim it could reach speeds of 20Gbps. Data from Whistle Out. (Harriet Norcross)

The announcement said the geographic area in which research can be conducted will be extended and more flexibility will be given to researchers while allowing those outside Salt Lake City to do research in the city.

It also named POWDER, a project building a mobile and wireless research platform in Salt Lake City, as the main platform in the city to assist in this extensive research.

POWDER director Jacobus Van der Merwe explained that the program is like a cloud service.

“The way we like to think of ourselves is that we provide the platform as a service,” Van der Merwe said. “Think of it like if you make use of cloud services on Amazon. They just host your services. In much of the same sense, we think of ourselves as hosting this research.”

Researchers can come to POWDER, get set up with the program and then largely work without oversight from POWDER.

Van der Merwe explained that his research team and others are not necessarily using 5G service right now as the general public might think, but they are exploring different technical aspects of mobile and wireless connection.

“It’s not like we have a 5G platform, per se,” Van der Merwe said. “We have something that might look like 5G, but it might also look like 4G or 6G. It’s a very flexible environment.”  

According to Van der Merwe, the increased flexibility will result in better opportunities for both academic and commercial researchers.

“If you’re an academic researcher and you’re interested in aspects of 5G, then you can come here, and it now becomes easier for you to do those experiments,” Van der Merwe said. “Or if you’re an industry player and you have 5G technology that you want to try out at a city scale, you might bring your equipment here and employ it and do your own experiments and tests with it.”

The question remains whether or not Salt Lake City’s designation as an “innovation zone” will make 5G cellular service available sooner, but for researchers, the designation is less of a win for 5G and more of a win for mobile and wireless innovation as a whole.

“Of course, 5G is the thing that’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the moment,” Van der Merwe said, but in his mind, the announcement is more about “doing innovative things in the space of mobile and wireless.”

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