[RWS #720] How 5G Will Transform Cities and Real Estate

Picture of a cell phone for Real Wealth Show Podcast Episode #720

Many tech experts are predicting big changes with the new 5G cellular signal. They say 5G will make data connections instantaneous, and will revolutionize many up-and-coming technologies including driverless cars, remote healthcare, emergency services, augmented reality, and many more.

Exactly what is 5G? Why are so many people predicting a major transformation? And how will it impact our lifestyles and real estate in particular?

Our guest today, Samantha Radocchia, is an emerging Tech and Innovation Expert with Singularity University and  Author of Bitcoin Pizza: The No Bullshit Guide to Blockchain.

In this interview, she will share:

  • A user-friendly definition of 5G.
  • Why so many people are predicting a major 5G tech transformation.
  • How it will impact our lifestyles with 10 real-world examples.
  • How it will Impact real estate, in particular.
  • The 5G roll-out timeline, which is already underway.
  • When we should jump in and buy a 5G phone.
  • The downside and obstacles to 5G.

Podcast Transcript: Big Changes Coming with 5G

Kathy Fettke: Samantha, welcome to the Real Wealth Show.

Samantha Radocchia: Great. Thank you for having me.

Kathy: Well, many tech experts are predicting big changes with the new 5G cell signal, but what exactly does 5G mean and what do we need to know?

Samantha: That’s a great question and definitely something that’s quite confusing. 5G in and of itself isn’t a technology. It’s actually a wireless standard for a group of multiple technologies. Anything across projects in networking or communications or how data centers themselves are architected. Really what it is, is a global standards project or initiative that is the subsequent efforts in standards that had started with 3G and 4G and even before that.

The thing is previously, we still haven’t gotten to a point in communications of having one universal standard. There are obviously competing standards and therefore fragmented coverage or approaches and really beyond just the global and universal initiative of 5G. What’s different about it is that the earlier standards projects were focused more on the consumer applications and access to the networks.

This is now bringing together consumer and industry and enterprise. We talk a lot about things like the future of industry or industry 4.0 or smart cities or autonomous vehicles. All of these grand futuristic thoughts about automated delivery services and cars charging themselves at car parks and things like that but really that’s not possible with the technologies that we have today. We’re at this inflection point where with 5G and the approaches that it will usher in and the new technologies that will bring in is also a massive transformation for the enterprise.

New Real Estate Frontiers

Kathy: Why are so many people thinking it will affect transportation?

Samantha: Even developed countries, there are still areas of a lack of coverage because right now a lot of the infrastructure is based in larger data centers or cell towers, so you see them around. It’s based on the radius that’s available from that one location. One of the transformations with 5G is having higher frequency networks that are more distributed or decentralized. If you’re thinking on a highway or driving down a road and you see a lot of street lamps, you can imagine rolling out the routers or cellular networks to be more like mesh networks on perhaps even all of the street lamps.

That will lead to things like coverage in areas where maybe perhaps they’re more rural. It also doesn’t require or necessitate these large fiber optic cables, again, leading to either real estate buildings or infrastructure or new industrial developments. Again, when you’re talking about the future of transportation or the automotive space or trucking, we’re seeing these other technologies that are converging right now like autonomous vehicles. That’s a very hot topic.

You have to imagine, the vehicles will need to be constantly connected to the cloud, constantly processing information both from their own sensors like speaking to other vehicles that are on the road, taking in data from their surroundings, taking in satellite or other information about GPS or location and processing immense amount of data in real-time. With both the spotty coverage of the current networks– That’s why a lot of people say 5G is an enabling technology because with a denser and higher speed communications network then it’ll be able to actually enable what would be required for, let’s say, autonomous trucks or autonomous Ubers.

Kathy: If I were to summarize that, people might be able to live in more remote places because they would be able to be connected?

Samantha: Yes. An example of this that I recently personally experienced and this was through working with some real estate developers both in Thailand and the Caribbean. They were wanting to create basically a tech hub for a group of digital nomads. A lot of people are spending time particularly in Thailand and in more rural or remote areas. One of the big barriers to entry or roadblocks is bringing in the infrastructure. In terms of the current need, it would be needing to bring in fiber optic cables and things to connect to the networks or have high quality or faster speeds.

With 5G, you wouldn’t need to basically install this infrastructure, it would be connected again, to wireless and more densely populated hubs as opposed to the fiber or the cell towers. It certainly can enable development in more remote areas and open up opportunities that would otherwise be too costly of a project. Also, again, there’s a lot of talk around solving of this last mile problem. Again, the disconnect between where the hub might be or connecting and building entire city blocks being able to be more flexible with that.

Router Network to Replace Cell Towers

Kathy: The signal is not transmitted from a satellite or it is?

Samantha: No, it’s not. It would be a network of basically 5G boxes or routers in the way that in your home communication system let’s say you’d have a wireless router and then the mesh network extenders, just imagine that on a much larger scale.

Kathy: Is that why there’s so much talk about 5G being different? Well, I’m sure you’ve seen some of the reports of people saying that it’s affecting humans differently because it’s a higher frequency and it’s a different frequency. I don’t know if you’ve read those reports.

Samantha: I have. I’ve read them on many different technologies [unintelligible] position. I don’t think we have enough data or research to see what this stuff is going to do to people, but yes, I can imagine that it would have some impact.

Kathy: It’s definitely something we’ve never done before. From a personal standpoint, we just see these big fat cables in our town that make it just so ugly to drive up the street with all these poles and cables. It sounds like potentially, in the future, 5G would eliminate the need for those big thick fiber optic cables. Is that true?

Samantha: Right and eliminating the need for the fiber, for the cell towers so you end up with a distributed network with smaller almost router size boxes. The example, again, I like to think of, of we have all these telephone pole or lamp posts and you’re seeing already the transformations of putting little solar cells to power the lights. There would be a similar example of smaller data centers moving the computing power closer to where it’s actually being processed. Perhaps if there’s an autonomous truck driving across the country and it’s communicating directly with the box that’s nearest to it and there’s some processing that needs to occur instead of being routed all the way up to the cloud, things like that.

More or Less Vulnerable to Attack?

Kathy: It almost seems like it would be less vulnerable to attack. Also, I once did a story on how vulnerable we are to just another country blowing up our satellites or something, but in this case, we’re not even using, we’re not even talking about satellites. Would it be difficult to disrupt? Let’s say someone wanted to disrupt or cause some violence on America. If we’ve got all these autonomous cars, could they go in and mess with the system? Some of the stories I’ve heard from before, they could just blow up the satellite, but would you say this is more or less vulnerable to that type of thing?

Samantha: 5G refers to a group of technologies. I believe that satellites are included in the technologies that could be enabling technologies for 5G, what they say is the network of networks. There might be satellites that are serving up this information. There might be, again traditional data centers that are extended through these routers. It’s a combination of things.

I certainly think over-centralization of infrastructure is a security risk. If you have everything in one location, it can be compromised through a variety of both physical or software-based attacks or even just natural disasters. I think about– with server farms or that infrastructure where you have these large data centers. Traditionally, maybe you’d have a huge data center in Arizona or there were some in Houston or New Orleans. If something happens, a natural disaster, a flood, a bad storm, then you can imagine outages for not– some of the largest websites or experiences. We’ve seen a lot of those, Cloudflare, which is a cloud service provider for a lot of large software companies that you use every day was down; therefore, they were down, their websites were down. You imagine in a situation where we would need our communications, we’d need that uptime.

Or, again, when we’re saying we start relying on more robotics, more automation. We don’t want those autonomous vehicles to all of a sudden disconnect from the network because there’s been some compromise or just a storm and then they turn to each other. While these technologies might be getting close to being available or ready, the infrastructure is really the key to unlocking all of this. I completely agree with the safety side of it in terms of the more distributed and decentralized it is, certainly the more coverage that you have, but also the safer it is.

The 5G Door is Already Open

Kathy: Yes, makes sense. What areas are already using 5G?

Samantha: A lot of the talk in the spaces around the real-time virtual and augmented reality, because I would assume it’s just easier to demo. You’re in terms of that imagining real-time, you’re wearing the Google Glass, which didn’t succeed after they launched that years ago. Now Snap just announced these spectacles that they have. It’s moving back into that phase of people having basically an AirPod in or glasses that would give you real-time feedback of pricing– you’re going through a store and it’s showing you the prices of everything. Or you’re meeting a person and it’s instantly going to the cloud and cross-referencing their face and showing you their LinkedIn profile. You know, real-time language translation.

All of these things are coming onto the market or already on the market. In the context of transportation or entertainment or real estate, because it’s a slightly longer timeline, I would say that the environments on the city scale or smart city scale are starting to move in that direction. When I say that, I mean, are being built with 5G in mind or anticipated, but maybe not necessarily in use today quite yet.

The similar example is in this example of drone delivery. There was a lot of talk over the past couple of years of Amazon or other large companies wanting to employ drone delivery for packages. So some newer apartment buildings and condominiums and major newer cities are being built with drone delivery ports. Of course, the infrastructure required to do that, it’s not just managing the airspace from the regulatory side. This is also, again, an area for 5G where you’re needing that real-time processing of high amounts of data and connection for these drones if they’re flying around all in our skies. These are examples that it’s not literally 5G, but it’s ancillary effect of it.

I’d say we’re seeing it on that scale, and projects that are starting to roll out. Another one that I often use as an example in respect to the machine communications or machine to machine interactions, in the context of cities and grids responding to supply and demand, is smart trash collection. I know Google Sidewalk Labs has been working in Toronto to pilot something like this. I live in New York City, so I still see the mess that is our waste management system. It’s just on a schedule, some things get filled up or overflowing and there’s trash on the streets and the waste management companies still just stick to the schedule.

I think now there’s these combinations of technologies where you’re seeing trash cans with sensors in them that measure data when it’s half full or three quarters full or completely full, processing all of that in real-time to route the different collection’s vehicles to different areas based on demand and making the most efficient grid. It’s like how an Uber would work in terms of routing or connecting a driver to a passenger.

All of these things, they’re being built on the infrastructure side. If you’re building a new building in New York City, and it’s a residential building and you have the waste management side of it, maybe there will be a system that’s integrating with it that’s integrated in turn with this nonexistent smart trash collection company. You’ll hear about it and that’s probably where it is now, people are building the software and infrastructure. Maybe not on the level of this futuristic wide-scale adoption. I think in newer cities that have the benefit of building infrastructure from the ground up, it might be a little farther ahead.

5G Rollout is Underway in U.S. Cities

Kathy: Interesting. What would you say would be the rollout expectations, the timeline? When do you think it’ll become just the way we do business?

Samantha: It’s not necessarily that it’s coming, it’s already here. AT&T’s network is rolled out in 12 U.S. cities. I think there are over 30 5G-compatible or 5G-ready devices for mobile phones this year. When you ask and if you look at the statistics of when are people ready to adopt this, it’s still on the consumer side taking a wait-and-see approach.

There’s definitely been a lot more talk and excitement, again, on the enterprise or industrial level. We’re talking about if you’re thinking of the future of a distribution center, you have a massive warehouse or manufacturing plant or distribution center where you are moving from more human-mediated assembly lines or things like that to robotically enhanced or completely automated system, then again, even just rolling out networking connectivity within that location or campus is an incredible advancement. I’d say the rollout there, that’s happening now.

Again, you have to imagine a lot of companies that are on different timelines in terms of where they even are. I’ve worked with folks that are still doing on-prem storage versus moving to the cloud. That’s been a whole initiative for years of Microsoft and the larger companies, working to shift people to the cloud. That is something that’s still, for a lot of companies, a massive infrastructural transformation. I think definitely more on the consumer side, of course, it will just happen, in terms of the devices that are connected to it and enabled by it. Then also, again, on the more forward-thinking, enterprise customers.

Super Fast Download Speeds

Kathy: The download speeds will be dramatically increased. That could create all sorts of new services and businesses like facial recognition, city-level real-time ID surveillance. I think that’s something–

Samantha: Yes. Again, when I’m thinking about and talking about or studying any technology, one, it’s so important that we educate ourselves about it so we can make decisions as business owners, investors, leaders, or just people of how best to use it and responsibly use it. Certainly, you could imagine, equally as dystopian examples or uses of police state or surveillance state. You could also look at it on the positive side. Again, with the example if you have real-time facial recognition. Again, I don’t know if this is the future I want to live in but it will happen of if I don’t remember someone’s name, I get a little ping that’s like, “Oh, this is this person, I could say hi.”

We might get a little disconnected. I think I’ve read a lot of studies that are suggesting that with 5G, more people will be more addicted to and more glued to their phones. I imagine by that time where, again, we have this amazing enabling technology, we’ll probably have other interfaces with it. It won’t be your cell phone, maybe you’ll have AirPods in and glasses on and a little touch screen that pops out from your arm. I think it will go a lot farther than that. Certainly, on the gaming space and the entertainment side of things, one, way higher quality streaming.

You look at eSports and there was just this large world cup or world tournament for Fortnite. If anyone has kids in middle school or high school or even adults do this, it’s kind of the biggest thing. They just had a massive tournament with screens and that’s how people are watching this. It’s not like live basketball or football and so this will be enabling technology for these kinds of social experiences in a large stadium-style arena. Being able to stream that video in high quality but also even on the go. A lot of games of that nature you need to use a gaming console or be at home and download the games and so with this, you’ll be able to play them directly in the cloud or streaming video content without really any latency.

Certainly, a noticeable difference but I think the really exciting things to think about are, again, what sorts of businesses and ideas will be enabled by it and basically anything that you think of that people will share in terms of like sci-fi or futuristic thinking of like what will a city look like. I think if you really get to the root of it, what will be the biggest enabling technology, I’d say it’s this one.

Working/Living Remotely with 5G

Kathy: It seems like it would almost feel like you’re there. If you were watching Times Square on New Year’s Eve or something, it would feel more real.

Samantha: Yes. I do think a lot about that as well as we’re moving to more distributed lifestyles, not just in terms of the values of how we architect like a communications network or set of standards but also the movement of people. One, if this technology is part of what’s enabling people to work in a distributed fashion or remotely from all corners of the planet, it’s the thing that will enable people to be their own banks. I do a lot of work in the blockchain or crypto space but again all of this first requires a reliable network before you’re using your cell phone to connect to other people for peer-to-peer instant money transfers.

There’s also, again, this element of, “Okay, if I’m living in some remote area in whatever country and I don’t have to rely necessarily on going to some sort of town to send money or go to a bank, or I don’t have to rely on travel to a city to get a good job. I can do it wherever I am and connect to an international network of people.” You start to think of then what will be the other technologies and that’s again all in VR and augmented reality. The development of these virtual worlds.

Where look at us right now, we’re talking through either a computer or a phone screen. We’re already spending a lot of our days plugged into this matrix. Like we’re already in it, but it’s just not the greatest experience or interface with it. I’m not fully jumping in with my body, my form and avatar. We can’t see each other and if we did video chat it would still be flat or like we’re going through this portal.

If you’re looking on that both in the trends of future of work and this technology enabling people to be more spread about and we have, again, autonomous vehicles or drones that will then enable things like bringing the grocery store or the pharmacy or even the doctor to your home, well, then, of course, we’re going to become more and more disconnected and we still need human connection, we still need to kind of be able to see gestures and there will be a lot of work going into having low latency virtual worlds.

I don’t know if you’ve tried virtual reality goggles or any of the games or ski games. There was a time where because there was a lag was too slow that you would get motion sickness because there is just that little bit of like higher latency challenges and now as it gets faster, it feels closer and closer to reality, which again, it might unlock and help people cross what they call the uncanny valley. This area where it feels too fake and then you get all weirded out by it versus embracing it as your reality. I think this will unlock completely new range of those sorts of technologies, which then has implications, I think, in terms of what will housing look like.

Will people care about– Will you want a larger home on land somewhere? Will people just live in boxes stacked on top of each other in cities? Will they go out and socialize or will they go in to these worlds and socialize? What will that be? I think that also has a lot of implications. Again, it’s sort of indirectly. We can draw direct conclusions to real estate and the future of cities of, “Yes, sure, this will change how the infrastructure is built,” or you won’t have to connect to fiber.

Then there’s the second sort of more abstract way of thinking about it where if we think and we buy this proposition that this technology will enable more distributed work and the nature of how people socialize or live will change, then, again, what is the nature of the residential real estate? What is the nature of commercial real estate? Is there commercial real estate at all? Is retail a concept that exists in the future? Will there be gyms? I’ve seen these other virtual reality tools enabled by this technology that are literally– I don’t know if you’ve seen Peloton, which is a workout bike that has a screen on it and you can go on bike classes with other people all around the world.

The next phase is with virtual reality. You can get on this board with goggles and go paddle-boarding in virtual Bali with your friend during a work break.

Kathy: [laughs]

Much Different World in 10 Years

Samantha: Yes, we laugh but I do think about again what that looks like in terms of what physical space will look like in a world like this.

Kathy: What we do know is it’s going to be a very different world in, I don’t know, five, 10 years. I don’t know how long it’s going to take but for sure I know that 10 years from now it’s going to be a very different world.

Samantha: Absolutely. Again, I would say in terms of rollout expectations and timeline, it’s probably sooner than that. Mainly because, again, across technologies if you look at– they are all converging and accelerating at a rate that is unprecedented. I think the ease by which we can write and roll out software, create new experiences, it’s easier than ever before. I would be ready for it and certainly I guess just keep an eye out for the side effects because it’s hard– what we’re talking about is quite abstract. It might not be something that you see in your daily life but if you know where to look, then it’s already happening.

Kathy: You might be that person who just wants to live in town in your little box of a home but have access to pretty much the whole world through your goggles, but you might also want to live in a remote place like you said, have drones bring your packages for you, be able to probably 3D print whatever you need. I already have– one of our own Real Worth Network employees lives pretty remotely and he’s been using his 3D printer for all kinds of things. It’s incredible. It’s already out there being used. You can certainly have solar power, what about water? That to me is the biggest problem with infrastructure if you’re really going to live out in the middle of nowhere.

Samantha: Well, I don’t know how much 5G will relate to this, although if it does enable you to live remotely, yes, water is important. I think that is probably the biggest global challenge that we’re facing or one of the biggest in terms of resource availability. I’ve seen various technologies people that are working to create technologies to basically collide atoms and create water out of the air. Obviously, that is still too expensive but at a certain point, if we were ever to run out of available water, of course, that would be an option. Reverse osmosis, desalinization plants.

I spoke to a woman on the molecular biology side who’s created this film, a living organism that, basically, acts or does the function of reverse osmosis through just the power of the sun without any kind of mechanical process. There are certainly technologies available. In terms of how to distribute or decentralize that, that’s still a question. I think the best bet would probably be these more advanced technologies that is kind of a form of alchemy. I would agree with you on that point.

Kathy: Well, hopefully, we figure that piece out because I’m in California and we can always use more water. Samantha, thank you so much for sharing your insights and wisdom with us here on the Real Wealth Show.

Samantha: Great. Thank you for having me, Kathy.

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