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5G is coming

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Wireless infrastructure is getting overwhelmed. Data usage is growing exponentially and the global pandemic is generating more demand for connectivity.

Inconveniences like frozen Zoom screens or inability to text or place calls illustrate the growing strain.

Looking to sell policy makers and community stakeholders on wireless 5G networks, Maryland’s technology, civic and business leaders announced the formation of the MD5G Partnership in June.

Members include the Maryland Tech Council, Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), Ports America Chesapeake, T-Mobile, and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

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5G relies on a network of low-powered cellular radio access nodes typically mounted on utility and light poles. With a range of a little over one mile, the nodes transfer data 20 times faster than existing networks.

Laura Toraldo, executive director and spokesperson for MD5G, touted 5G’s revolutionizing potential for innovation in education, public safety, healthcare, technology, public transportation and economic development.

“Consumers and businesses are already driving the demand for 5G,” said Donald Fry, president and CEO of the GBC. “5G will be a boost for our local economy across sectors.”

Jobs Catalyst

In November, Toraldo and Joe Greco, vice president of Containers for Ports America Chesapeake, highlighted MD5G’s vision and the benefits the technology will deliver.

“For transportation, 5G will have a hand in decreasing traffic congestion and creating better fuel efficiency,” Toraldo said, enabling autonomous vehicles to safely share the road at the same speed and intervals.

It will also allow logistics industries to optimize their transportation and warehousing operations, making them faster, safer and more reliable, she said.

According to an economic impact study conducted by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, 5G could create an estimated 9,700 jobs, $850 million in network investment and $1.5 billion in GDP growth for Maryland.

Spillover

Thirty states have already passed statewide policies making it easier for telecommunications firms to install 5G technology. Maryland has yet to do so.

But earlier this year Verizon announced plans to construct the state’s first 5G Ultra Wideband network in Baltimore.

For Ports America Chesapeake, it’s welcome news that will magnify the advantage Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal facility already has over other ports on the East Coast.

Located closer to Midwestern markets than its competitors, Seagirt is planning an expansion to simultaneously handle two of the largest super-post-Panamax cargo ships now in use, beginning sometime in 2021.

Those improvements will make Baltimore more attractive to manufacturing sources like Vietnam and Malaysia, and emerging sources like India and the Middle East.

Seagirt’s cranes currently log approximately 700,000 lifts annually but the expansion will double annual lift capacity to 1.4 million.

The addition of 5G technology will be icing on the cake, Greco said, allowing the terminal to offer technology-enabled supply chain visibility that’s been lacking and that nearly 90 percent of logistics and shipping providers consider one of the biggest challenges for the industry.

Expanded port activity produces a tremendous economic impact, which already amounts to 140,000 direct, induced or indirect jobs that contribute a personal income level of $3.3 billion throughout the region, he added.

Capacity Issues

Seagirt’s employees currently use handheld devices to track containers at the port.

“We’re transitioning to tablets, but the data transfer rate associated with those devices is being challenged,” Greco said. “With so much volume increasing, we’re being taxed on the capabilities of devices that rely on wireless networks.”

It’s not just internal usage driving data transfer at the terminal but also the increasing demands for data originating from outside customers requesting updates for their scheduling purposes.

Seagirt is only the most visible example where this is happening.

“[Our] fastest growing sector is logistics, warehousing and distribution,” said David Ianucci, president and CEO of the Prince Georges County Economic Development Corp., speaking at the Central Maryland Chamber’s November Economic Forecast forum. “Amazon is picking up everything they can find in the county for those last mile centers, they’ve added 500,000 to 600,000 square feet to their inventory and close to 1,000 jobs, and I don’t think they’re finished counting.”

Ben Birge, president and CEO of the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp., sees a similar trend.

“We have a lot of different warehousing and transportation projects going on, especially in the north part of the county, [because] e-commerce … is really taking off,” he said.

Calling it a bipartisan issue, Toraldo noted that 72 percent of Maryland voters consider 5G infrastructure necessary, with 66 percent of those voters preferring a statewide set of regulations as opposed to allowing localities to set their own rules and regulations.

“One of the key barriers to 5G is that many don’t know what it is or how it will impact them,” Toraldo said. “Our priority is to develop a baseline of understanding that will increase support for it.”

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | December 2020 Issue

 

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