NCTech to Communities: 
Start with Yes to 5G

 In Blog

During a recent NCTech conference on 5G, I was struck – nay, inspired – by the opportunities ahead of us. The applications for this faster and ostensibly more secure network may give us a chance to be more efficient, more secure and more stable. I walked away with eyes open to the fact that communities that embrace this technology and commit to being Smart Cities are those who will succeed; those who don’t will lose the economic development war.

What is 5G? For those of us in attendance, a clear and deliberate definition was offered by Dr. Gerry Hayes of the Wireless Research Center of NC. I can’t be as elegant as Gerry was, but let’s provide some baseline. It’s the next step for speed of internet delivery. 3G is what you were used to on your phone about 10 years ago. 4G was then built to facilitate data connection.  LTE is what we rely on now, enabling video download or streaming and giving us answers to pesky questions at the speed we expect.


  • 5G will be 50 times faster than you currently experience. 
  • It will be more responsive.
  • It will provide about 1000x more capacity. 
  • It’s so efficient that batteries will be able to last 10 years as a result.
  • As we close in on 2020, mobile phones will begin shipping with 5G. This past week, Lenovo and Qualcomm announced the first laptop with 5G

While we learned much of what it is and how it works, the team pointed to the myriad of resources available to learn more (such as this ebook from TechRepublic). The real purpose behind this event was to build awareness and set the stage for coalition building. Competitors shared the stage (Verizon, AT&T, CrownCastle, for example) and spoke to a diverse crowd of legislators, community activists, technologists and business execs. 

One key comment focused on economic development: We have to embrace 5G throughout NC and do it now… or lose business to the states that seize this opportunity. “It’ll be North Carolina against everyone else,” said Jeffrey Sural, Director of Broadband Infrastructure for the State of North Carolina. Tom Snyder of NC RIOT told us about how the city of Cary has established their IT infrastructure as an API (Application Programming Interface) Gateway plugin, so developers can beta test Smart City solutions. Not only does this put Cary at the forefront of the pack, but it also harmonizes best practices and facilitates citizen input as companies let them ‘try before they buy’ a new solution. 

An application idea that hit home for those of us in hurricane prone regions is that disaster relief methods can be enhanced – and delivered more quickly. One startup in Raleigh is specifically addressing stormwater using technologies that 5G enables. Green Stream has developed devices using sensors that monitor flooding in real time. Knowing early allows for better communication, saving lives and livelihoods, and reducing risk by facilitating action early in the flood stage.

We learned that all cars will be equipped with 5G no later than 2022. What can that mean to safety and to traffic jams? Cars can know when a stoplight is about to change… or change them to allow emergency vehicles to get to the hospital or arrive at a crime scene more quickly. Imagine the lives it will save.

These two illustrations don’t even touch on the vast opportunities. E-sports, for example, is a phenomenon that’s exploding globally and will be moved forward more quickly by 5G. Better reporting from drones will keep first responders from entering dangerous environments without an understanding of what they’ll face. Telemedicine may finally deliver on its own promise, although Ann Brooks of Crown Castle offered that she didn’t want to be the first to experience remote surgery! And autonomous driving will take off, as more cities embrace IoT on their roads.

But the big take away is that we need to involve more people in this discussion. We need entrepreneurs to develop big ideas, funders to support them, and city and county managers to have the foresight to adopt IoT and 5G. Until then, we need to help spread understanding of the value 5G will bring to our communities, so that we can START WITH YES and work out the how as we progress.

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