Long-awaited 5G mobile speeds are finally coming to Ontario — but just in Waterloo for now

Long-awaited 5G mobile speeds are finally coming to Ontario — but just in Waterloo for now

The next generation mobile network, 5G, is finally coming to Ontario, promising speeds of 10 to 20 times that of current networks — but for now it will be restricted to the University of Waterloo campus, where Rogers Communications will be testing the new technology.

Rogers and the university said Friday that they will build a 5G network on the campus in Waterloo that will test network infrastructure, frequencies and applications in a real-world environment. The partnership is part of Rogers’s nearly $20 million national investment in R&D at institutions including the University of British Columbia, Ryerson University and Waterloo Region innovation hub Communitech.

In addition to the test, the Waterloo partnership will focus on engineering, design, applied mathematics and artificial intelligence applications in the 5G or fifth-generation technology, which is already available in some major U.S. cities with a limited supply of compatible 5G smartphones.

Rogers partnered with the University of British Columbia to activate North America’s first 5G-powered test-bed campus last month, and it plans to build the Waterloo campus starting in the first quarter of 2020.

While the UBC research will centre on application development, the engineering focus plays to the strength of the University of Waterloo, where Rogers chief executive Joe Natale is an electrical engineering alumni.

Sanjeev Gill, the University of Waterloo’s associate vice-president of innovation, said part of the research will focus on areas such as medical imaging and advanced manufacturing to study how quickly data sets can be transmitted in a 5G environment, with the research focused on eventual commercial applications.

In addition to the U of W development, Rogers has become the first wireless provider to work with ENCQOR, a $400 million research partnership led by the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec. ENCQOR has established the first precommercial 5G telecommunications corridor in Canada.

“5G is at our doorstep and these investments are critical to developing the ideas and solutions that will fuel industries and drive Canada’s digital economy for decades to come,” Natale said in a statement.

Experts say 5G mobile broadband will allow internet download and upload speeds between 10 and 20 times faster than 4G and help make cellular coverage wider with more stable connections. Latency, the delay between sending a request and the network responding, will theoretically drop to a millisecond, which Rogers says will foster industrial applications requiring quick responsiveness such as autonomous vehicles, telesurgery, smart homes and smart cities.

Network operators are testing 5G in Canada with Bell, Rogers and Telus expected to begin rolling out national commercial networks possibly at premium rates with regional carriers to follow.

Canada is joining countries around the world in the 5G push with governments and carriers investing heavily to upgrade in anticipation of accelerating growth in data traffic that could stretch the capacity of legacy infrastructure. A new report from mobile analytics firm OpenSignal, however, says Canada is not under the same pressure as other countries to make the shift because of the exceptional quality of its 4G networks.

The report says Canadians already benefit from speeds, lower latency and greater 4G available than most countries so that when Canadian carriers launch they will be able to leapfrog and move straight to stand-alone 5G, which will be more efficient due to a new radio access network that isn’t reliant on legacy 4G technology.

The report says a lack of available spectrum to deploy 5G services is one of the reasons that Canada will be unable to upgrade to 5G as quickly as the U.S. and other countries.

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