GCI announces state’s first wireless 5G network in Anchorage

GCI CEO Ron Duncan announces the first 5G wireless network project in Alaska. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

The state’s largest telecommunications company announced it’s building the first 5G wireless network in the state’s largest city.

GCI will partner with Swedish telecom company Ericsson to upgrade GCI’s existing sites to deploy 5G service throughout Anchorage. GCI says the project will be complete in 2020, with 5G service coming online in the first half of the year. They estimate it will increase wireless capacity in the city by 10 times or more.

GCI CEO Ron Duncan says that other communications companies like AT&T have begun implementing 5G technology in several Lower 48 cities, but this would be the northernmost network in the country.

“It’ll be a long time, I believe, before any of the other carriers get real 5G to Alaska, but this is our market,” Duncan said. “They’re starting in their biggest markets, we’re starting in our biggest market, and we’re going to build out from there.”

Duncan says the existing infrastructure GCI has in Anchorage, in the form of macro cell sites, fiber networks and radio spectrum will allow mobile access to internet throughout the city. Networks relying on cable access to internet won’t be different in this phase of the project.

Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz says that while there are benefits to individual consumers, the municipality will also benefit from a more robust wireless system.

“What we can do to be more efficient with the use of our public safety resources, what we can do with our public works resources, how we can make sure that our utilities are functioning at high capacity,” Berkowitz said. “That’s what 5G brings to us.”

Berkowitz used last year’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake as an example of a situation where having increased connectivity would’ve allowed for better assessments of damage.

Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org

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