The Rogers Centre has become a test site for 5G deployment, and with the help of long-time network supplier Ericsson, other areas in Toronto and Ottawa are expected to follow suit later this year.
But don’t expect much action at the consumer level yet, said Jorge Fernandes during a press conference at the Rogers Centre this morning, where 5G applications were shown off and the Ericsson partnership was announced.
“I believe the enterprise business development is where the real opportunities will come from,” the chief technology officer for Rogers Communications said during the announcement. “From the consumer point-of-view, initially all you will see is a higher throughput.”
Examples of the Rogers 5G testing program came in the form of VR applications for shopping, gaming and robotics – areas Fernandes said will deliver some of the most creative projects early on during testing. The lag between sending a request and the network responding, he added, will theoretically drop to one millisecond through 5G, allowing innovation to flourish in the automation space where near-real-time responsiveness is key. A 5G network could help driverless cars know what’s beyond its sensor range, such as a bicycle, suggested Fernandes.
But the infrastructure needs an upgrade for that to work, so Rogers is preparing to modernize its wireless network by increasing the number of transmitters capable of connecting sensors within a city to autonomous vehicles. Fernandes said Rogers is open to other partnerships that push the smart city concept, such as Sidewalk Labs’ smart city neighbourhood project in Toronto. Whatever partnerships are ultimately formed, collaboration among city governments and business will be important.
“There’s still a lot being done to develop the technology itself. And it’s important that we start explaining and bringing these partners along so that they can see the future and see the benefits they bring,” said Fernandes.
No exact time line for 5G testing outside of the Rogers Centre and in the city of Toronto was announced. But Fernandes said Rogers is working on expanding its fibre optics, smart cells – complimentary devices that improve 5G connectivity in smaller environments, such as the Rogers Centre – and towers so that a 5G upgrade will be possible once the software is finalized. The Ottawa trial will start sometime around June.
When asked about 5G’s rollout in rural communities, where reliable Wi-Fi is sometimes still hard to come by, Fernandes said they will have to shrink the current coverage area of traditional antennas to ensure low latency is achieved, meaning additional antennas will have to be built. It’s not going to happen right away, he added.
The plans for 5G testing stem from a $200 million investment, announced last month by Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains. Federal and provincial governments of both Ontario and Quebec will chip in equal parts of the $200 million investment with technology partners developing 5G wireless technologies. Those five partners, Ericsson, Ciena Canada, Thales Canada, and IBM Canada will match their government’s funds and invest another $200 million into the project.
A 5G partnership with Rogers made perfect sense given the history between the two companies, said Chris Mercer, the VP of sales with Ericsson.
“Our relationship has been long standing through GSM, HSPA, LTE and now through 5G. We’re very excited being a part of this,” Mercer told reporters, pointing to statistics that suggest mobile data traffic is expected to be eight times greater than what it is today. “Live networks across the world will help shape this 5G experience for Canadian and Rogers customers.”