Editor’s note: Rick Smith, writer of The Skinny blog, is co-founder and editor of WRAL TechWire, which launched 20 years ago this month as Local TechWire.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – AT&T’s announcement of its ultra-fast internet service – up to 5 gigabits (more than double the fastest service from rival Google Fiber) on Monday could be a huge difference maker for entrepreneurs, consumers wanting ever-fasting access to power multiple devices as well as streaming, and remote workers. But just how will this happen and why?

WRAL TechWire reached out to Tom Snyder, executive director of RIOT – the Regional Internet of Things organization and a recognized thought leader on all things internet, to get his thoughts.

WRAL TechWire photo

WRAL TechWire Editor Rick Smith

  • We all dreamed of 1G … then 2G (google fiber) now 5G – amazing, eh? 

It is an awesome time to be alive.  We can’t imagine many of the applications and experiences that 5GB will enable.  It will be a lot of fun.

  • What’s impact of up to 5G speeds for consumers? 

The increased speed opens up potential for new applications that today are throttled at 1 gigabit.  Initially, the higher speeds will not be significantly impactful, but this creates a platform for innovation and AT&T puts itself in a leadership position to capturing those new market applications.

Related: It is important to consider what speed is offered in each direction (upload and download).

Most high speed application today is in data that consumers download, for example, streaming movies. Most internet plans offer higher speed TO the home (download) than they offer FROM the home (upload).  The need for fast upload speed increased dramatically during COVID as people joined bi-directional video for school and work on platforms like Webex, MS Teams and Zoom.  The new AT&T offering will help those applications, but more importantly open the future posibility to evolve from simple video to immersive multi-directional virtual reality experiences.

Photo courtesy of NC RIoT

Tom Snyder

  • How about Home users with big demands for multiple devices, entertainment? 

A bigger digital pipe means more devices can stream video simultaneously without buffering, for example.  But for most households, 1 GB is sufficient until applications like I described above come to market.  On the enterprise side, the speed can have much more impact, supporting many more people per account.  Think apartment complexes, for example, where a lot of subscribers may tie back to a single access point.

In the near term, it is likely that speed and performance will move to another part of the communications chain, once the AT&T service is in place.  For example, website download speed will be impacted more by the speed of the server that is hosting the website than by the fiber connecting the data center back to the home.  Total speed depends on every component of the system.

  • Its impact for businesses such as for remote worker access?  

It will be interesting to see if employers will help cover the costs of higher speed connections for their remote employees.  The costs proposed by AT&T feel reasonable for the increase in quality of service. But I suspect in the short term that 1GB service is sufficient for most remote worker applications.

The bigger question to ask all fiber providers is when they will accelerate efforts at getting 1GB to rural areas and to low income urban communities.  The 5GB service is great technical innovation, but the bigger need right now is to get 1GB to digital deserts than it is to provide faster speeds to communities that already have 1GB.

  • AT&T is promising 10gb– what would/could people, companies do with that? 

5 and 10GB begin to unlock the potential for massive automation. Things like fully autonomus traffic systems of self-driving cars.  Drone air traffic control.  Highly advanced surgical robotics.  Lots of machine-to-machine applications with streaming AI/ML that takes the Internet of Things to it’s next level – the Metaverse.

  • Are these faster speeds crucial for the coming Metaverse? 

Absolutely, speed is critical.  The economy over the past 30-40 years was about the rise of processing power and the connectivity of the internet.  The next 30 years is all about speed.  How close to “real time” can we automate everything.  As we get closer and closer to zero latency, this includes instantaneous data collection (sensing), data transport (communications) data analytics (computing), and data response (automation/actuation).

AT&T rolls out fastest broadband service – doubling Google Fiber’s top speed