Network is not accessible to the public, but Rogers plans to deploy 5G for consumers in 2020

5G has a been hyped for years by technologists who predict that it will lead to revolutionary advances in autonomous driving, smart cities, robot-assisted remote surgery and more. 

Rogers Communications Inc. says it will be lighting up the first 5G network in central Canada in early 2020 as part of a research partnership with the University of Waterloo.

The company said that the partnership is part of a broader $20 million investment program in Canadian 5G research and development. At Waterloo, researchers will focus on engineering, network design, applied mathematics and artificial intelligence as it relates to 5G.

Rogers has already established a 5G network at the University of British Columbia as part of another research project, and they’re testing whether 5G can be used for earthquake detection.

5G has a been hyped for years by technologists who predict that it will lead to revolutionary advances in autonomous driving, smart cities, robot-assisted remote surgery and more. But until the networks go live and device manufacturers actually start selling 5G phones, the full potential of the new technology is still unknown.

“If you’re asking me whether I have all the use-cases nailed down? The answer is no,” said Alexander Brock, SVP of technology strategy, innovation and partnerships at Rogers.

“What we do know is that 5G is going to change everything, in terms of how people live, how people work, how people play.”

Unlike the transition from 3G to 4G wireless networks, Brock said, the jump to 5G allows for dramatically faster data transfer speeds, but it also opens the door to other capabilities such as much lower latency — the amount of lag time it takes for the network to respond.

“Edge computing” will also become more commonplace in 5G, Brock said.

That means instead of using the wireless network to send data from a cellphone to a data centre where servers do all the heavy lifting, and then back again, for some applications it might be more efficient and speedy if tasks were handled by computers that are closer to you.

Technologists have ideas for how these new capabilities could be used, but it’s so new that Rogers research-and-development partners plan to tinker and see what they can do.

“You suddenly get with 5G, lots and lots of levers to pull and the ability to custom design applications and services that, frankly, hitherto were not possible to do in wireless,” Brock said.

The new capabilities are alluring for manufacturing, resource extraction, agriculture and other industries because the lower lag, higher data speeds, and wireless connectivity could enable new forms of automation.

In Canada, 5G has been associated with the controversy and national security concerns around Huawei, the Chinese equipment manufacturer that makes much of the kit that can be used to build these networks.

For more than a year, companies have been waiting on a decision from the federal government on whether Huawei equipment will be allowed in Canada’s 5G network.

Bell Canada and Telus Corp. both want to use Huawei gear, but Rogers has partnered with Swedish equipment provider Ericsson, which has allowed them to get a head start.

The University of Waterloo is the second university in Canada to partner with Rogers on a 5G network for research purposes, after the University of British Columbia did so last year.

Neither of the networks are accessible to the public, but Brock said that Rogers plans to deploy 5G for consumers sometime in 2020.

Ultimately, he said, the 5G revolution will happen.

“We’re all looking forward to a lot more devices that support 5G. There have not been that many up until now, but that will change in 2020,” Brock said.

“In terms of launching and deploying, it is driven by devices, ultimately, and getting those into the hands of consumers and businesses.”

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