Guest column

Here’s why you should pay attention to 5G in Houston

No one knows the full scope of what 5G will bring, but there's no better time than now to brace for, and embrace, the possibilities of 5G. Getty Images

Fifty years after Houston launched mankind to the moon, there's been a flurry of news about Houston launching 5G with claims of revolutionizing communication. However, some Houstonians are probably wondering — "why should I need faster internet to watch another YouTube video?" And, they're not alone. The truth is there are many questions unanswered around 5G — rightly so, because, similar to the moon-landing, its impact is more about what it will help create.

But, now is a good time to look ahead. As we ring in the New Year, I'd like to take a moment to review what 5G is, how the rollout is going, and importantly, why it matters to Houston and its future.

What's 5G again?

5G is the next generation of wireless technology after 4G (shocking, I know). Because 5G networks rely on much smaller and more closely-deployed antennae that can be fixed to existing physical structures (e.g. buildings, light poles) instead of traditional cell towers, signals can be carried faster and more reliably. It doesn't just mean faster streaming for your binge-worthy shows; it means better business opportunities. Nearly four in five (79 percent) Houston business executives agree that 5G will revolutionize their industry by offering new ways to provide products and services, according to Accenture's 2019 Technology Vision report.

Some of the winning characteristics of 5G include:

  • Speed: 5G is set to be much faster than previous generation networks, up to 100 times faster than existing 4G networks, offering speeds up to 10 gigabits per second.
  • Latency: We'll see much less delay or lag. To put it into perspective, 4G networks latency is typically around 40-50 milliseconds. With 5G, it should be one millisecond or less, going undetectable to the user.
  • Capacity: 5G has greater capacity, meaning networks will be able to cope better with many high-demand applications at once — from connected cars and augmented reality experiences and simultaneous HD video streaming.
  • Reliability: 5G is also expected to be ultra-reliable, allowing more critical use cases such as emergency responses and industrial applications.

How's it going?

2019 saw continued progress on 5G. All the four major U.S. mobile service providers have deployed 5G commercially in Houston, making it one of the leading U.S. cities when it comes to 5G deployment.

2020 will be a building block, and we're sure to see advancement across three key areas: networks, devices and experiences. These aspects are the three legs of the 5G stool and grow interdependently. For example, the network build-out will accelerate adoptions of devices and 5G-enabled experiences. In turn, demand for new, enhanced 5G-powered experiences will drive more network deployment and device purchases this year and beyond. There are also perceived barriers to adoption among business leaders, including the upfront investment, security, and employee buy-in, which will need to continue to be addressed.

Why should Houston care?

To begin, possibilities are countless for virtually all key Houston industries, including the energy sector, from transporting a technician to an oil rig via virtual reality or overseeing pipeline repairs remotely, to handling hazardous chemicals safely without direct human contact.

Another area 5G can be applied would be for smart vehicles, connected roads and other municipal infrastructure. It is estimated that smart city applications (which Houston is starting to make some real progress around) made possible by 5G networks could create three million new jobs and contribute $500 billion to U.S. GDP over the next seven years, while helping citizen lives be safer and more convenient.

Above all, as Houston continues to race toward building a world-class innovation ecosystem and a sustainable, thriving economy, we simply can't take our foot off the gas in the 5G race — much like the moon race. It's an imperative that the region continue to lead in 5G network adoption and that our local industries and businesses envision, plan and develop new ways of working.


When Henry Ford invented the automobile for the masses, he could not have foreseen how it would catalyze tourism, retail consumption, labor mobility or urbanization. Likewise, no one knows the full scope of what 5G will bring, but there's no better time than now to brace for, and embrace, the possibilities of 5G.

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Brian Richards is the Houston innovation hub director at Accenture and board member at Houston Exponential.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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