A bear-costumed employee from Holland America Line’s Noordam cruise ship checks his phone between sessions being photographed with arriving visitors at Marine Park in this June 2015 photo. 5G mobile network service which GCI announced Tuesday is coming to Alaska, will result in faster device speeds. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

A bear-costumed employee from Holland America Line’s Noordam cruise ship checks his phone between sessions being photographed with arriving visitors at Marine Park in this June 2015 photo. 5G mobile network service which GCI announced Tuesday is coming to Alaska, will result in faster device speeds. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Last Frontier becoming First Frontier: 5G service is coming to Alaska

• Could be to Juneau in next “several years.”

New 5G wireless network service is coming to Alaska by 2020, starting in Anchorage before making its way to other cities, GCI announced in a press conference Tuesday morning.

The g in 5G stands for generation, which means 5G is the fifth generation of mobile network technology. The main difference between widely used 4G LTE technology and 5G is that 5G is faster. LTE stands for long term evolution; it’s sort of a half-step between 4G and 5G.

“5G is going to be really, really fast, and it will be everywhere,” said GCI founder and CEO Ron Duncan during an announcement held at Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall in Anchorage. “The goal of 5G is when you run the speed test, the phone is going to melt in your hand. That’s my standard of success for 5G.”

[GCI partners with think tank for series about a suddenly global Arctic]

GCI is partnering with the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson for the project that will make Anchorage the first city in Alaska to offer the technology.

Currently, only a few dozen major U.S. cities, like Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas offer the service.

Jennifer Miller, 18, and Gavin Blood, 22, catch Pokémon while playing Pokémon Go in this June 2016 file photo. 5G mobile network service which GCI announced Tuesday is coming to Alaska, will result in faster device speeds. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Jennifer Miller, 18, and Gavin Blood, 22, catch Pokémon while playing Pokémon Go in this June 2016 file photo. 5G mobile network service which GCI announced Tuesday is coming to Alaska, will result in faster device speeds. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Ericsson President and CEO of Ericsson Börje Ekholm said it might be time to call Alaska the First Frontier instead of the Last Frontier.

Duncan said bringing 5G service to Alaska will take an investment of “tens of millions” of dollars. The network is expected to be completed by 2020 with early service starting in the first half of next year, Duncan said.

Over the next “several years” Duncan said 5G service will spread to other communities in Alaska, including Juneau.

“Anchorage is the first place we’re going to start this because it’s the biggest city,” Duncan said in response to a question from the Empire about 5G making its way to Southeast. “We anticipate 5G will expand to at least all the fiber-served areas of the state. If it’s up and operating in Anchorage by 2020, over the next several years I would expect we will pick up in Juneau and Fairbanks and the other communities served by fiber.”

Ekholm said it’s not exactly clear how 5G’s increased speeds, reduced latency and ability to support billions of devices will be used.

He said that was also the case with its predecessor, 4G, which led to the advent of making payments with mobile devices among other developments.

It has been reported by outlets, including the BBC and Salon, that 5G may be critical to the development of autonomous cars.

Ekholm did not specifically mention that possibility but said he expects 5G will lead to new developments.

“5G will be a platform for innovation,” he said.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz also spoke during the press conference and said he was pleased by the news.

“The motto of Alaska is North to the Future and what that means is we’re supposed to embrace innovation, we’re supposed to try new things,” he said.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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