Are we going to have 5G in the US soon?

First of all, what is 5G? 5G is generally seen as the fifth generation cellular network technology that provides broadband access (Wikipedia). The technology, in theory, allows for support for many more devices in the same area and much faster speed than the current 4G technology. It has been touted as one of the core components in our future society and received a lot of hype in the past few years. Here is what Loup Ventures has to say about when 5G is going to be commonly available:

On June 28th, T-Mobile will be the 4th US carrier to “launch” 5G in the US with 6 initial cities. While encouraging, we’re still in the buildup phase, likely two years away from the average consumer using 5G. To put this into perspective, we believe, by the end of 2022, about 75% of the US population will have access to 5G, essentially 2 years behind AT&T’s recent estimate of roughly 66% by the end of 2020. 

Loup Ventures Newsletter 29th June 2019 Issue

But are we though?

Wired has a great article on the different approach the US chose for 5G adoption, compared to other countries. Here is a quote that summarizes well such a difference (a bit long)

“…The traditional sweet spot for wireless service has been in what we call low-band or mid-band spectrum. This is between 600 MHz and 3 GHz. For a long time, these airwaves were considered beachfront property because they send signals far. In other words, they cover wide areas but require little power to do so. This makes them especially attractive for service in rural areas, where technology that can reach more people with less infrastructure makes greater economic sense.

For 5G, however, the United States has focused on making high-band spectrum the core of its early 5G approach. These airwaves, known as “millimeter wave,” are way, way up there—above 24 GHz. They have never been used in cellular networks before, and for good reason—they don’t send signals very far and are easily blocked by walls. That means they are very expensive to build out. On the flip side, these airwaves offer a lot more capacity, which translates into ultrafast speeds.

The United States is alone in this mission to make millimeter wave the core of its domestic 5G networks. The rest of the world is taking a different approach. Other nations vying for wireless leadership are not putting high-band airwaves front and center now. Instead, they are focusing on building 5G networks with mid-band spectrum, because it will support faster, cheaper, and more ubiquitous 5G deployment. Take China, which allocated large swaths of mid-band spectrum for its carriers last year, clearing the way for deployment in a country that is also home to Huawei, the largest telecommunications equipment supplier worldwide. South Korea and Australia wrapped up an auction of key mid-band spectrum last year. At roughly the same time, Spain and Italy held their own auctions for mid-band airwaves. Austria did the same earlier this year. Switzerland, Germany, and Japan also auctioned a range of mid-band spectrum just a few months ago. The United States, however, has made zero mid-band spectrum available at auction for the 5G economy. Moreover, it has zero mid-band auctions scheduled.” –

Wired – Choosing the wrong lane to race to 5G

In short, to access the very high-speed 5G in the US, you need to live close to the towers. The farther you live from them, the worse the connection will be. All would be OK if it were easy and cheap to build those towers everywhere. But it’s not.

Per Wall Streets Journal:

This is the paradox of 5G, the collection of technologies behind next-generation wireless networks: They require a gargantuan quantity of wires. This is because 5G requires many more small towers, all of which must be wired to the internet. The consequences of this unavoidable reality are myriad. The 5G build-out, which could take more than a decade, could disrupt our commutes, festoon nearly every city block with antennas, limit what cities can charge for renting spots on their infrastructure to carriers on which to place their antennas, and result in an unequal distribution of access to high-speed wireless, at least at first.

In a 2017 report, Deloitte Consulting LLP principal Dan Littmann estimated that it will take combined carrier spending of between $130 billion and $150 billion in order for most Americans—including those in rural areas—to have a choice of providers of high-speed broadband and 5G wireless. Marachel Knight, the senior vice president in charge of rolling out 5G at AT&T, says her company estimates it will take a decade to completely build out its 5G network.

The driving force behind this enormous build-out is that 5G networks don’t work like previous wireless cellular networks. Where 2G, 3G and even 4G rely on large towers with powerful antennas that can cover many square miles, the shorter-range, higher-frequency radio waves used by 5G networks—essential to their ability to deliver the 10- to 100-times faster speeds they promise—mean that 5G networks must have small cells placed much closer together.

Typically these small cells must be placed about 800 to 1,000 feet apart, says AT&T’s Ms. Knight. Small-cell antennas are typically the size of a pizza box, but can be much larger, and require both a fiber-optic connection to the internet and access to power. They go wherever there’s space: on buildings, new 5G-ready telephone poles and, often, retrofitted lampposts. In 2018, the U.S. had 349,344 cell sites, according to CTIA, a wireless industry trade organization. The organization estimates that—to achieve full 5G coverage—carriers will have to roll out an additional 769,000 small cells by 2026.

In a nutshell, I don’t think we are going to have 5G for the majority of Americans soon. There may be a portion of the population who fortunately will have access to the technology. The rest will have to wait till the infrastructure is amply built.

When it comes to hyped technology, I think it’s always a good idea to be vigilant, avoid the hype, go into more details and take a more conservative stance. We don’t lack examples of techs that have been hyped for years but are nowhere near to being common: AI, autonomous vehicles, 5G…

Heck, a lot of Americans don’t have access to Internet

With GDP per capita 25 times smaller than that of America, Vietnam still pays more for gas

On 2nd May, 2019, an increase in gas price in Vietnam was announced, an 8th time such a development took place in 2019. Here is a chart that illustrates the gas price in 2019 so far. The number is in VND, our national currency. The exchange rate is at 23,314 VND for $1

Source: Le Nguyen Huong Tra

Those are the two types of gas we use in Vietnam with the green one as the more popular choice and we measure it in liter, not gallon. With the exchange rate of 23,314 VND for $1, Vietnamese pay approximately $0.95 for a liter (22,190 divided by 23,314).

According to gasprices.aaa, the national average gas price in the US is $2.888 per gallon. As a gallon is worth 3.785 liters, on average Americans pay $0.76 per liter for gas. Given that GDP per capita in the US and Vietnam in 2017 is $59,532 and $2,343 respectively, according to WorldBank, it’s extraordinary that we pay more per liter in the poorer country.

I am not a chemical expert and the gas used in each country may be different in essence, but it serves the same function and the living costs in both countries are affected by gas prices.

The difference is even worse when you compare the gas price in Vietnam to affluent states in America. Keep in mind that different in America, where gas price varies from one state to another, Vietnam has universal gas price regardless of where you live in the country. Take Massachusetts as an example. GDP per capita in the state in 2017 is $64,507, but the gas price in the state is just $0.75 liter, compared to $0.95 in Vietnam.

Unless I am missing something terribly important in my assumptions, the expensive gas price that we have to pay in Vietnam is ridiculous and ludicrous. And how many companies would give employees a raise 8 times in a span of 5 months to keep up with the increasing living costs? Exactly!

Paperwork Nightmare

The name convention in Vietnam is LastName – MiddleName – FirstName, the opposite of the Western name convention. The name on our passport is displayed in our convention. So when the folks at the US Embassy process a visa application, the name on the visa becomes MiddleName – FirstName – LastName. That’s what happened to me.

To apply for a student visa in the US, one is given a paper called I-20 by his or her school. I-20 is a must when the student applies for an American student visa. My name on I-20 is correct as in FirstName – MiddleName – LastName.

Upon landing in the US, immigrants have another form called I-94, which records the last time one enters the US. My name on I-94 follows the name on my visa and as a consequence, is incorrect. Somehow, my name on Social Security Card is correct as in FirstName – MiddleName – LastName.

Two days ago, my school updated my I-20 to match the name on my visa and I-94. Now, my name is consistent on I-20, visa and I-94…in an incorrect way. The only one odd out is my Social Security Card in a, ironically, correct way. Moving forward, I will either have to change names on visa, I-20 or I-94 or I will have to change my name on Social Security Card. I know my choice. Not much. Still a choice. But going to a Social Security Administration for anything is never a pleasant experience. A friend of mine had the same trouble. It took him 6 months to get it fixed.

From now on, my First Name in the US is my Middle Name. Imagine the inconvenience. And none of this is my fault.

Update on OPT

While we are talking about paperwork and bureaucracy, I want to talk a bit about the OPT process. As a STEM student (who studies science, technology, economics or maths), I can have 3 years of OPT after graduation. Within those 3 years, I will have to get either a working visa or a green card. Otherwise, I’ll be kicked out of the country.

Students cannot apply for OPT earlier than 90 days before graduation. But the process takes at least 3 months and sometime much longer. It means that international students may not have jobs in the meantime and hence income. Their chance of employment can be put at risk if the process takes too long. After an OPT is approved, a student can work for one year. STEM students can apply for one year extension. However, the STEM process is even more difficult as the student and employer have to work out a training plan with goals and how to achieve those goals. Goals have to relate to STEM degrees. During the OPT time, students have to send a report every 6 months, detailing what they do at their job. And there are a bunch of other requirements.

My intention is not to complain. This is to shed light on a frustrating process that should have been easier. International students are here to make a career and pay taxes. We are supposed to work and contribute while staying here. But even that is made very difficult.

What if that were me?

I believe that the world would be a much better place if each of us put ourselves in others’ shoes before taking a course of action. There has been a lot of divisiveness, argument and tension that could have been avoided, especially when it comes to immigration, if we had had more compassion for others. I’d like to share what I have been through in the past two years in the US. These are personal experiences and stories I came to know from my close friends.

Administrative hurdles

Before I could board a plane to the US, I had to apply for a student visa just like so many others. After tedious preparation with plenty of paperwork, I had an interview with an immigration officer at the US Embassy. At that point, the result was essentially out of my control. The officers have the authority to deny or accept visa applications on the spot without having to give a detailed explanation. A rejection certainly doesn’t do an application any favor for future attempts. My experience is nothing compared to other refugee applicants; which John Oliver explained here. Let me tell you: it’s not easy or enjoyable to even be able to board a plane to the US.

The first time I was in the US, I landed in O’Hare airport in Chicago. There are two lines at every international airport in the US. One is for permanent residents and US citizens while the other is for other folks. It takes normally at least 1.5 or 2 hours to get through the long line of immigrants waiting to be verified by the immigration officers. These officers have the authority to deny an immigrant entry to the country and to put him/her on the plane back to the origin. Since going to Omaha always requires a connecting flight from a bigger airport such as Seattle, Chicago or New York, I always have to look for flights that must have more than 2 hours in layover. Usually, it results in a more expensive flight ticket. Imagine that was you. Would it be comfortable that you stood in line for 2 hours doing nothing, with luggage and sometimes with your crying babies after hours of flight?

I had to come back to Vietnam to renew my student visa. I used to live in a town of 50,000 people in Finland for more than two years. Every year, the only thing I needed to do to have my visa renewed was to visit the local police station and 80 euros. With the US, I had to be physically in Vietnam to apply for a renewal. I didn’t mind a chance to visit my family and friends, but it came with almost 70 hours of flight and $1,600 for a round-trip flight ticket. Before booking my flight, I was looking for a cheaper alternative. There was an option involving a layover in Canada that would cost $300-400 less. The caveat was that I would have to apply for a transit visa. The possible savings weren’t worth the administrative trouble I’d have to go through for the transit visa. What if you were me or any other immigrant? How would you feel about the troubles we had?

After renewing my visa, I came back to the US and landed in Seattle for a layover. After the lengthy immigration process at the checkpoint, I was pulled in for a random luggage investigation. I had no idea why I was pulled in, but I wasn’t going to protest or make a scene. I brought Vietnamese coffee in my luggage for personal consumption (by the way, we have great coffee!). When I opened my luggage, I saw a note saying that somebody already checked my luggage and there was coffee all over my belongings. The officer opened another bag of coffee to check. After a 5-minute check, I was allowed to retrieve my luggage and get on my way. Needless to say, I had to wash my clothes off the spilled coffee.

Racism

I suffered two incidents of racism myself while in the US. One time, I was walking to a bar in the middle of an area full of bars and clubs in Omaha. A car passed by and a young woman pointed a middle finger towards me and shouted aloud: “fuck you Asian”.

The other time was close to my university campus. I was waiting at the bus stop to go home. Standing with me was an African American guy and we started to converse to kill time. There was nobody with us there. Suddenly, a car with loud music inside passed and somebody shouted aloud: “shut the fuck up!”.

What if the roles were reversed? Would any American honestly feel that such behavior was acceptable?

Working in the US

I have been lucky enough to have a job here. The struggle wasn’t easy, though. We immigrants don’t speak the language fluently and don’t understand the local culture completely. There were a few times at my office when I didn’t get the jokes from my colleagues. As immigrants, we also bring with us the future requirement for a visa sponsorship. Companies are not in the business to lose money. So, the requirement doesn’t do our applications any favor. If you think it’s easy for immigrants to secure a job, you may want to think again.

I have two close friends whom I have known for 8 years and are living the same building as I am. They graduated in 2016 and have been working as full-time employees for more than 2 years. They are highly educated with a dual Master’s degree and absolute contributors to their respective companies. Nonetheless, none have secured a working visa for no reasons that anybody can explain. They have been working in the US with their OPT legally, but haven’t left the country for 5 years. A lot of life plans and decisions hinge on whether they can get a visa. Just spare a second to think about all the uncertainty in life that results from the anti-immigrant policy.

 

I am not trying to complain. What I have experienced is much better than many other immigrants and refugees have. The point is that to be able to live, study or work here legally, it is not easy at all for us. There are many difficulties and challenges involved. As an American, you can go to any country to travel for 30 days without a visa. You can earn a lot of money in developing countries by teaching English, the language that you speak fluently already. Whenever you come back to the US, you don’t have to wait in line for hours or live in uncertainty that an officer can put you back on a plane on the spot. In the US, you have an advantage in job search as there is no required sponsorship or gap in local culture.

Surely, there are some bad apples among immigrants, but the number makes up only a small percentage of all immigrants. It doesn’t make sense to generalize all immigrants and treat us with hate. Put yourself in our shoes. How would you feel if you had to go through what we went through?

Everything would be much better if everyone could take a second to wonder “what would happen if it happened to me?” or “what if that were me?”