Category Archives: Communications

5G Communication Technology

The next advance in communications, at least the next faster thing in communications is the new cell phone technology called 5G, which stands for fifth generation. Currently, depending on your location either 3G or 4G(LTE) provides the fastest data transmission via a cell phone style connection assuming you get any cell phone signal.

In reality, all electronic communications move at the same rate – the speed of light which is pretty darn quick. If you could bend the light from a flashlight to follow the curvature of the earth, you would illuminate the back of your head within a tenth of a second of turning it on. This is true for a beam of light or any other electromagnetic wave such as any of the generations of cell phone technology.

So how does 5G technology “go faster” than previous technologies? Data transmission is measured in bits of date moved per unit time, otherwise bits per second. Think of the different generations as the difference in the size of the pipe delivering the data. Another simple analogy is the number of lanes on a highway. Obviously, a four-lane highway will move twice as much traffic as a two-lane highway even when the traffic is moving at the same speed.

Back to data, the current fourth-generation has an upper limit of 300 bits per second (bps,) although practically speaking about 50 bps is the current average. The projected real speed of the 5G network is 3,000 bps, a sixty-fold increase. What would have taken one minute on a mobile LTE network will take only one second with 5G technology. You will be able to use up your data plan in the blink of an eye!

The greater data transmission rates are achieved by 5G by using a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Without going too deep into the weeds, the higher the frequency, the bigger the pipe and the faster the data transmission. Some, however, are fearful of the use of this higher frequency radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) constitutes a spectrum, a continuum from the most energetic gamma rays, then X-rays, then ultra-violet, then visible, then microwaves and radio waves. When these rays interact with matter, you and me, they interact in different ways. The most energetic, gamma rays, X-rays, and Ultraviolet light can break chemical bonds and damage molecules such as DNA. This can lead to cancer.

EMR at frequencies below visible light are not energetic enough to break chemical bonds and therefore are not responsible for cancer. Microwaves and radio waves, where cell phone transmission happens, interact with matter by “rattling” atoms and molecules. This induced motion is perceived as heat. We live an ocean of EMR – we are literally bathed in EMR from television, radio, and current cell phone signals.

The 5G network roll out over the coming years will facilitate safer self-driving vehicles, and richer data steaming such as gaming, TV, even holographic image data. There may be some aspects of the future to fear, but a 5G network is not one of them.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University. His website is Bob of the Ozarks, www.ozarker.org

Rural Digital Divide

Throughout the previous century and into the 21st, there has been a gradual population shift from rural to urban locales. The jobs just aren’t there anymore. Early on this was dominated in a shift from subsistence farming to a reliance on cash crops. Later, it was driven by the mechanization of farming technology.

This demographic shift was very obvious when looking at life in the Ozarks. Subsistence farming filled the hills and dales. Even in face of the double whammy of the economic collapse of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, families survived. The advent of World War II however, created jobs that hadn’t existed before. The Ozarks saw a huge drop in populations as whole families moved off to work in defense plants.

In addition to the demographic shift to towns and cities, there is also an age shift, with the average age of rural populations increasing. This is entirely understandable as the older folks with jobs in rural areas stay and the youth head to the cities to find employment.

A big step bolstered the success of rural life, rural electrification. President Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1935 which was followed later with legislation creating the Rural Electrification Administration. Were it not for this act life in rural areas would have disappeared even faster. Electrification brought some parity to rural life compared to life in the cities.

As we transition to the age of the internet, there is a new form of disparity between the cities and rural areas. Access to broadband internet is becoming essential to both learn and earn in contemporary society. Increasing numbers of jobs depend absolutely on broadband internet. With quality internet access, many jobs could come back to rural areas. Rural life is inherently attractive to many but there has to be an income source.

The value of broadband internet has been recognized now and even the smallest schools have access. But what about when the children go home? Not so much. The best method for broadband is fiber optic cables but the cost for rolling out the cable is unattractive to commercial entities. Broadband can be delivered via a cell phone signal to many rural areas, but again low population densities mean low income for private investment.

The Ozarks present a particular difficulty because of the topology, deeply cut serpentine valleys mean even more towers are necessary for complete coverage. It is time to consider a significant effort to support bringing broadband internet to rural areas, just like rural electrification. In fact, the electric coops could act to broker the delivery. The poles to string cables are already there. It would require an expansion of the skill set for the coops to manage internet connections, but that in itself would bring jobs back.

It’s time to bridge the digital divide and bring our rural areas into the twenty-first century. Children at home need access to high speed internet. Modern home security systems require connectivity, even many personal health notification devices for the elderly require access.