For the future, Bluebird Network sees many exciting developments within communications infrastructure. For more than two decades, Bluebird Network has been on the cutting edge of technological innovations, expanding broadband access to the communities with whom we share the Midwestern United States. Several factors will continue to drive this growth into the future, from building towers and cost-effective expansion to regulatory improvements aligning telecom providers and the markets they serve.
First, 5G expansion will be a clear improvement from the 4G networks that currently supply data to most devices. Unlike its predecessor technology, 5G wireless communications provides vastly improved speeds by using mid- and high-band spectrum in three frequency bands, whereas 4G only uses one frequency band. According to the November 2018 “Ericsson Mobility Report,” by the end of 2024, 5G is anticipated to span 40 percent of the world and handle 25 percent of mobile network traffic. Data speeds will also be as much as 100 times faster than current 4G networks, allowing people to upload, download and transmit data in record times. However, this speed also will change how Bluebird Network services customers, because the economy of 5G expansion will need to improve. Cell carrier deployments will need to be significantly more cost-effective and affordable, because fewer users will be connecting to individual base stations at a time.
It is also apparent that regulations will need to improve at the local levels to support the expansion of 5G. Local governments, state commissions and the FCC need uniform and simplified rules that make it easier for carriers, networks and builders to enter new markets. In working with local municipalities, Bluebird has experienced neighboring towns operating with different rules and the challenges that arise when building infrastructure. Uniformity of requirements on a national scale would reduce hurdles associated with bringing necessary communications infrastructure to new markets.
To support these infrastructure developments, more towers will need to be built, with shorter distances between them. When users located closer to cell towers, they can use more spectrum and receive faster data speeds. Additionally, the use of more small cell sites will enable carriers to deliver more bandwidth to that area. For example, if a telecom provider were to deploy 120 small cell sites, those sites would deliver 120 times more bandwidth than a single cell site alone. However, using more small cells forces the technology to become more affordable to support these small cell sites, compared with using a macro cell tower that might 100 thousand users. To make these deployments more cost-effective, Bluebird Network is planning additional uses for the fiber deployment, such as making use of our fiber footprint for local businesses.
The direction of communications infrastructure will continue to advance toward 5G deployment across the United States, reaching large metropolitan areas and rural municipalities alike. 5G will fill the demand for low-latency data speeds, which can be as low as 1 millisecond to 4 milliseconds, under optimal conditions. Alternative broadband options promise low-latency as well, such as the satellite data proposed by Starlink, which advertises latency between 20 milliseconds and 40 milliseconds. In reality, required latency can be as high as 80 milliseconds for a video conference. In comparison, the current 4G latency is usually between 50 milliseconds and 100 milliseconds. For a small number of users, satellites may provide adequate bandwidth for their needs, but when the number scales up to number in the thousands, satellites can only provide a finite amount of bandwidth from a constellation that spans the country and the world. Taking physics into consideration, satellite broadband is unable to compete with 5G. Latency directly correlates with how long a signal takes to travel, whereas packet loss results from errors in data transmission.
As 5G wireless communications service spreads to more U.S. communities, it will become the superior option for high-speed, reliable connectivity. However, something to watch is how the pandemic has greatly affected the investment community and the carrier community in bringing more infrastructure closer to end users. With the government allocating more funds for new projects, the result is builders building more and more. This factor risks the possibility of overbuilding if governmental bodies are not careful about how they regulate. Careful regulation requires collaboration among local governments and communities as municipalities continue to encourage better lifestyles for citizens.
As the world stands today, many operations rely on access to high-speed broadband, especially as people continue to work from home, attend school remotely and meet with healthcare professionals virtually. At Bluebird Network, we see that 5G will connect people, businesses, new technologies and organizations around the world faster and more reliably than ever before.
Michael Morey has been serving as president and CEO of Bluebird Network since 2012. With more than 38 years of telecommunications experience, Morey has served as president and CEO of Voxitas, senior vice president at NuVox and regional vice president of Electric Lightwave, in addition to filling various management positions during 13 years with AT&T.