CC041: Bryan Darr of Ookla // demystifying the 5G revolution (from CES 2020)

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Bryan Darr 0:00
One of the big concerns is…Putting another layer on top of the existing networks from 4G to 5G, and one of the big concerns is, are people going to pay for it? You know, if you’re driving a Chevy, and you move to a Ferrari, you expect your car payment to go up. That’s what we’re, that’s what we’re doing here. We’re taking your your Chevy, and we’re giving you a Ferrari.

Jay Clouse 0:23
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them, and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside. Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the Upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and I’m accompanied by my co-host here at CES, Mr. New Apartment, Who Dis himself, Eric Hornung.

Eric Hornung 1:03
Yeah man, we, it’s not even in an apartment, man. I, I went suburban.

Jay Clouse 1:07
You went suburban?

Eric Hornung 1:08
I went suburban. We moved out of OTR and up to Oakley, and we have a three floor plus a basement house.

Jay Clouse 1:17
Wow.

Eric Hornung 1:18
It’s got 1800 square feet, it was built in 1921, it’s got a fenced in backyard and a garage, man. I have done it. I have white flighted in my way out of Cincinnati.

Jay Clouse 1:29
What are these floors going to be?

Eric Hornung 1:33
So the first floor is a dining room, which is a whole new experience for me coming from Chicago and then New York and then a smaller apartment in OTR. There’s also the living room, which is actually factually bigger than my entire living space in New York, just the living room. Kitchen on the first floor and then the second floor is, it’s a three bedroom house. We turn one of them into my office. One of them is our bedroom. The only bathroom is on the second floor, which is a little bit of a downer.

Jay Clouse 2:03
One bathroom.

Eric Hornung 2:03
One bathroom, yeah older houses, you know, that’ll happen. And then the top floor is what we’re calling the Thunderdome.

Jay Clouse 2:11
Is that a, what we’re calling or what you’re calling?

Eric Hornung 2:15
The jury is still out on that?

Jay Clouse 2:17
I don’t see friend of the podcast–fiancé of the podcast?–Colleen calling it the Thunderdome.

Eric Hornung 2:23
Right. So it’s a carpeted area upstairs in one of the traditional older houses that has the slanted ceilings. We put a bed up there for when we have guests. Hank loves to hang out up there. Colleen seems to think that my call of duty is going up there, but that is…

Jay Clouse 2:37
Not factually true.

Eric Hornung 2:39
The jury is out on that.

Jay Clouse 2:40
Where are you going to place your wireless router for optimal gaming results?

Eric Hornung 2:47
Well, for gaming, I’ll have a hard line connection.

Jay Clouse 2:50
Okay.

Eric Hornung 2:51
So that’s good.

Jay Clouse 2:51
That’s necessary.

Eric Hornung 2:52
But for our wireless system, we’re gonna have a meshed router system because fast Internet’s so important to us.

Jay Clouse 2:57
Yeah, well, I asked because I have a vested interest, and I want to make sure that our recording quality stays on the up and up.

Eric Hornung 3:03
Yeah, we still have the 500 megabyte package.

Jay Clouse 3:06
Not that you’ve ever been the offender. It’s always been me trying to steal bar or neighbor WiFi, which just isn’t strong enough to conduct a podcast. Well, speaking of strong WiFi signal, today we are speaking to Bryan Darr, the Executive Vice President of smart cities at Ookla, which is the company behind speed tests. If you’ve ever tested your wireless or wired speed at speedtest.net, you’ve used an Ookla product. Bryan has spent most of his professional life in the wireless industry, beginning his career in cellular as a sales rep for Cellular One of Memphis in 1985. He started Mosaik in 1988, and began developing consumer roaming guides. We’ll get into all of that, what that means in the interview, since that is probably not something you’ve spent any time thinking about if you’re anything like me. In 2018 Mosaik was acquired by Ookla, which is where Bryan is today. Eric, we’re sitting here at CES 2020. There are a lot of booths and panels and exhibits about smart city technology. We’ve talked to a couple of guests this week about it. And 5G is something that comes up a lot. I don’t know what G means.

Eric Hornung 4:14
Generation.

Jay Clouse 4:15
Well, now I do. There’s going to be a lot of basic questions like that and more as I talk to Bryan about this next generation of wireless technology.

Eric Hornung 4:25
So I’m coming into this interview with a lot of pessimism.

Jay Clouse 4:29
Pessimism?

Eric Hornung 4:30
Pessimism.

Jay Clouse 4:31
Okay, tell me more.

Eric Hornung 4:32
See, whenever something is buzzword, it always makes me feel like maybe it’s not the big thing yet. Maybe when you ask someone, why is 5G going to make a difference, I don’t think most people who talk about 5G know why 5G is going to be important. And that means to me that, yeah, maybe it will be important one day, but maybe the impact in the near term isn’t going to be as big as everyone’s saying.

Jay Clouse 4:58
You think it’s a marketing boo?. There’s some sort of company that would stand to gain by 5G being a thing and they’re pushing it out?

Eric Hornung 5:05
Yeah, probably.

Jay Clouse 5:06
Smoke and mirrors. Well, I don’t know anything about this. Even after spending six months working with our Smart City team in Columbus, I didn’t spend any time thinking about 5G, or what the implications are. But you’ll hear things from time to time of people. You know, being afraid of 5G, they’re worried about the signal or radiation, or they’re worried that we’re going to fall behind China if we don’t move on 5G more quickly. And I just have no idea what any of that means, what to be concerned about. And so I’m hoping that Bryan can help us separate the signal from the noise.

Eric Hornung 5:37
That was a very nice ending there, Jay. And if you guys liked that ending, you can tweet at us and say, Jy, wow, you’re really good with words, @upsideFM on Twitter, or you can send us something a little longer at hello@upside.fm.

Jay Clouse 5:52
I think I’ll actually set up the email address, jaywowyourereallygoodwithwords@upside.fm. So we can collect all those comments they won’t fill up our inbox, but it’s good to catalog them. Alright, let’s get into an interview with Bryan. Eric, what is your favorite kind of pie?

Eric Hornung 6:11
Apple Pie all day. Also, I’m kind of on the fence between apple pie and apple crumble, and are they the same thing? Are they different? Either way, they’re both delicious. Little scoop of vanilla ice cream, carmel. I bet you didn’t think you were going to get that much of an answer from me on that one.

Jay Clouse 6:26
A lot of detail. So I want you to imagine a pie chart and we’ll even make it an apple pie chart. Let’s cut that apple pie in half, 50% of it is technical recruiting, 25% of it is executive search, and 25% of it is sales, marketing and product. That is the breakdown of the different types of searches done by our friends over at Integrity Power Search, the number one full stack high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups, and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disrupting companies. Fifty percent of their searches are technical, 25% of executive search, and 25% sales, marketing and product. So if you are hiring dear listener, I would get a hold of Integrity Power Search.

Eric Hornung 7:08
How would you do that, Jay?

Jay Clouse 7:10
Just go to upside.fm/integrity to learn more about what they do and how you can get involved. That’s upside.fm/integrity.

Eric Hornung 7:18
It seems to me like you lead with pie, and I don’t get any pie. Am I, am I losing on this one?

Jay Clouse 7:25
You are getting no real pie. It was simply a visualization.

Jay Clouse 7:35
Bryan, welcome to the show.

Bryan Darr 7:36
Thank you. Appreciate you having me today.

Eric Hornung 7:38
On Upside, we like to start with a background of the guests. So can you tell us about the history of Bryan? Take us on a quick rocketship.

Bryan Darr 7:45
Oh, well, currently with Ookla, the folks behind Speed Test. I think a lot of people know what Speedtest is. A lot of people keep it on their phones. But as far as my background is concerned, I actually started out in the wireless industry back in 1985. I had the opportunity to start selling phones when they first started coming out, and they were just car phones, and the next year we were allowed to sell the portables for $5,000 apiece, if you think about that. About three years into it, I realized my customers were having trouble using their phones when they traveled. And so I created a booklet that would actually tell them how to do that and tell them what cities they could go to, because you used to have to have a roamer access number, a port that would allow people, you, you would have to dial it, like dialing a pager, for those people who know what a pager is now.

Jay Clouse 8:33
Before my time.

Bryan Darr 8:36
And then you’d either get a series of beeps or a secondary dial tone, and then you’d enter the customer’s mobile number that you were trying to reach, because if they were in Chicago, but they were traveling to Dallas, you know, completely different area codes. There wasn’t any way for the network to know where you were. And ultimately, they figured out a way for the network to be able to autonomously register the device, and now your calls follow you. But we printed those booklets for about 10 years. But during that period, we got into mapping because we had people say, Well, you seem to know where all these networks are. So I started a company called American Roamer back in 1988, and built a business on those roaming guides. But about three years into that, got into mapping, we’re just collecting all the coverage that the carriers were stating, you know, where they believe they had coverage all over the country. And eventually, we did that all over the world. We rebranded to Mosaik about 10 years ago. And then Mosaik became part of Ookla, June of 2018. So that’s kind of a brief history on me and my background.

Jay Clouse 9:38
I think back to my first cell phone, and it was, I was like, 15, it would have been early 2000s. And just the way that cell phones have changed since then blows my mind. So if you’re playing around with cell phones back in 1985, how have you kept up with like the pace of change of mobile communication? Like what do you have to do to stay on top of these things?

Bryan Darr 10:00
I’m not sure there’s anything that will date a movie more nowadays than seeing someone on one of those old big Motorola brick phones, right? Particularly something like Wall Street or whatever. It’s, it’s kind of fun to see that. But yeah, it has been astonishing, all of the things that the phones can do now and what it has replaced for us, right? This show that we’re out here at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, you now have your calculator, your camera, your, you know, your games, whatever, all right here in a single device, your flashlight, right?

Jay Clouse 10:33
Communication device to the internet, you know, I’m tweeting out of the show.

Bryan Darr 10:37
That’s right. And so it’s pretty astonishing. You know, in the beginning, there was voice. I’ve always enjoyed pointing out that that’s really, that was the killer app, okay, back in 1983 when the first networks launched in Chicago and Washington DC. And then you know, the networks just grew and grew and grew on the old amps network, or I guess we would call that 1G at this point, but it was analog. And then 2G came along, and all of a sudden, we could send messages to one another. Wow, that was pretty cool. Right? Email was clunky. You could take a photograph, but don’t try to upload it. You know, on some phones, by the way, only some of them had cameras. So it’s this evolution that we have seen has been nothing short of astonishing, that it’s taken this short period of time, frankly, to see it evolve to the grade it has.

Eric Hornung 11:26
We’ve seen it evolve over these last 30 years so much. Do you think that it will evolve more in the next 30 years than it has in the last 30?

Bryan Darr 11:38
I think that we could see an even shorter span of time for the same level of evolution. As you know, we tend to think about, you know, sort of where we are today, and for most people in their busy daily lives, they don’t sit down and spend a whole lot of time really thinking about what, you know, they may have a financial plan that they want to target for 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now. But in terms of how the world has changed, what kind of job they might have 5 or 10 or 20 years from now as opposed to what they do today, most people don’t really have even time to sit back and think about it and worry about it. There’s an awful lot of taxi drivers here in Vegas. It’s a really interesting market because the taxi drivers have a very strong political voice here, you know. But what’s autonomous cars ultimately going to do…

Jay Clouse 12:33
Yeah

Bryan Darr 12:33
…to the taxi industry here and all over the world? And you think about the freedom that that’s going to bring. I’ve got, I’ve got two family members, I mentioned this on a panel yesterday, I’ve got two family members that are both low vision, that suffer from low vision. Neither one of them can drive. One’s effectively the line. And what the cell phone has done, what podcasts have done, okay, it was books on tape, and now you’ve got this explosion of additional content who’s for someone who can’t see very well, okay, who can still enjoy and absorb information and get the news and all these other things that they really couldn’t do before. It’s, it’s going to be, I think, an amazing time for people with disabilities. But those technologies ultimately will be adopted by other people that to do a variety of other things. I think of what we saw with 4G, the most amazing thing to me was what navigation did. You can trace navigation to those Uber and Lyft vehicles that are running around to your ability to just, you know, plug an address into your phone or into your car, for that matter, and have it, have it take you, tell you turn by turn, where to go. You’re going to see that happen indoors. It’s one of the things that I think we’re going to see. I think we’re going to see retailers make it easier for us to find that item that, I don’t know about you guys, but my wife invariably, when she’s cooking something for a party, she says, she says, you need to go to the store and pick up x. And I’m like, What is that? Where do you find that? I have no idea to. Ask me where the barbecue sauce is, and I can tell you.

Eric Hornung 14:16
There’s a whole shelf of it.

Bryan Darr 14:17
Well, I’m from Memphis, so yeah, we know exactly. Everybody Memphis knows for the barbecue sauce is. So that’s pretty, you know, I think that, that in building navigation that we’re seeing a little bit here in our own CES app right now, I think it’s just going to evolve. You see glasses out here on the floor, wearable with a with a camera in it, that is going to and will actually present to you in your vision, you know, the, the direction to turn and tell you where to go. I mean, these are amazing things.

Jay Clouse 14:50
So to ask a very basic question. You mentioned 1G, 2G, we jumped to 4G. What is an increase in a G, does that just mean ‘generation,’ and what does a new generation of technology allow for? You know, you mentioned that 4G allowed for navigation. Why, what about that may navigation possible? And eventually we’ll tie us into 5G. But to first catch people up to speed who don’t spend as much time in this.

Bryan Darr 15:14
Fair enough. You know, the devices have been able to use GPS, the constellation satellites, for quite some time. It was originally a military function, right? The US military didn’t let anybody have access to it until I think was the Clinton administration. And, or they had you had limited access to it, you didn’t get very good resolution or granularity on your location. Exactness, if that’s a better word. And so, when that, when that opened up, then that provided, you know, you’ve really got about seven meters of accuracy outdoors that allows you to know, Yes, I’m on this street, okay, I’m traveling down this street. And the devices being smart enough to not only be able to pinpoint your where you are in space, but also be able to provide information on your rate of speed, on your acceleration, okay? To be able, to be able to then follow that and present that to you on a map. And having enough bandwidth as we moved into 4G and the ability to pass a significant, significantly more information than 3G could back and forth, then allows it to paint the picture of that map on your phone, and then interact, as you see that Uber vehicle or that Lyft vehicle, you know, coming towards you, or a delivery van. A lot of services now, you know, will send you a link and you can go follow the delivery van to your house, okay. We’re going to see more and more of that, in order to be able to communicate, in order to be able to pass back and forth that amount of information, you just have to have a lot more bandwidth than 3G allowed for. And 5G is they have opened up not only more and more spectrum, but the equipment, the technology is allowing for more efficient use of the spectrum that’s already there. Then the capability of 5G is going to allow the amount of data to pass back and forth explode. The other thing that’s going to be a really important distinction with 5G is latency. Now, all the gamers listening to this podcast know exactly what I’m talking about, all right? Because you will die, in your favorite single person shooter game, you will die, you know, I’m sorry, a group, you know what I’m talking about…In a in a big group game. You know, if, if that guy has got better connectivity and lower latency than you do, you’re toast, okay, you’re you’re not going to survive very long.

Eric Hornung 17:37
Unless you got 1G, because then you got, then you just skip around the map.

Bryan Darr 17:41
So, so you’ve got, yes, it’s going to bring a much better gaming experience, you’re going to be able to see a massive amount of data for that true realism be passed back and forth at a higher level. But think about how that then translates to other types of applications that we’re going to see in the real world. I was talking about navigation, the ability to walk down a street in New York City, or let’s say, let’s say you go up to a place where you don’t know the language. You take a trip to Paris, okay? You take your partner to Paris with you, you want to have a good time. But you don’t know your way around. You don’t speak French. A lot of people in France do speak English, but not all of them want to speak English to you. All right. It’s a wonderful country, and they’re actually quite accommodating. But you’ll be able to navigate and have turn by turn directions not just on your phone, but actually in your vision. Imagine a map that drops points of places of interest, and whether it’s restaurants like Yelp, okay, or whether you will just want to be able to see the museums. You’re going to have the opportunity to go navigate a foreign country without having to constantly stop and figure out if someone speaks your language or not. And if they don’t speak your language and you want to converse with them, that universal translator that Star Trek thought up back in the 1960s that was big, okay, and clunky, is now just going to be another app in your phone and connectivity at a very high speed that’s going to allow you to converse without a significant delay. And part of the reason this is going to happen this way, and we’re going to see 5G rollout, and 5G is going to be a true evolution. AT&T’s made, has drawn some fire because they put 5GE displayed on their phones, and it’s not really 5G. But I will say this much: the evolution aspect of it I think is very accurate in that what we’re going to see is that, as 5G comes out, it’s actually going to get better in some respects. So I work for Ookla. We’re seeing speed tests that are crazy. Okay, one gig one and a half gig two gigs of throughput.

Jay Clouse 20:01
That’s crazy.

Bryan Darr 20:02
I mean, it’s crazy.

Eric Hornung 20:03
It used to get like 10 megs.

Jay Clouse 20:05
It was bad.

Bryan Darr 20:06
What do you need, what do you need that for? Okay. The important thing to remember is that the speeds that we saw on the 4G networks in some respect, when they first came out, were actually higher than what most people experience because the networks weren’t loaded up. How many people have a 5G phone? I don’t know what the number is right now, either. But I’ll guarantee you, it’s less than 5% of the users out there. Okay. Every day, that’s going to increase as people go in and swap out their their phones if they’re on Android, until Apple pushes out a 5G capable phone, then the people updating to the new iPhone 11, they’re not going to have actual true 5G coverage. But that should be coming, I hope later this year. And so you’ll see those people that are on 5G are going to have crazy stupid network speeds. But as that network gets loaded up, then it will become more reasonable in the numbers that you’re seeing. But I do think that what we’re going to see is somewhere around in the areas where they’re launching millimeter wave–I’ll get to that in a moment–where they’re launching millimeter wave, we’re going to see fairly consistent speeds at 10 times or so what you’re, what you’re experiencing on 4G.

Jay Clouse 21:17
So what, we hear the promise of 5G, and we’ve heard it for a couple of years now here at CES.

Bryan Darr 21:22
Right.

Jay Clouse 21:22
What is stopping that evolution and mass availability tomorrow? You know, with all this promise, you would think that people would want that. So is it just some necessary pace of rolling it out, or are there hurdles to actually getting this in the hands of people?

Bryan Darr 21:38
Well, it’s a number of different things. There’s a lot of things that actually have to happen in order to bring this magic, you know, out to, out to people in businesses, right. The government has to provide spectrum. Our government has done that. Not all countries around the world have had spectrum made available yet or have just made it a available to companies for them to launch 5G, because there’s not enough capacity on their current spectrum for them to go launch it without negatively impacting their 4G customers. Okay? So spectrum’s the first thing. Obviously, you have to have investment. This is expensive, right? These companies are going to spend billions and billions of dollars adding to this network, and one of the big concerns is–putting another layer on top of the existing networks from 4G to 5G. And one of the big concerns is, are people going to pay for it? You know, if you’re driving a Chevy, and you move to a Ferrari, you expect your car payment to go up. That’s what we’re, that’s what we’re doing here. We’re taking your your Chevy, and we’re giving you a Ferrari. And how much money are people going to be willing to pay for that experience? It is the experience ultimately, that is what people are paying for.

Jay Clouse 22:54
So if I’m, I am an AT&T customer. How much proportionately, regardless of telephone carrier,how many proportionately do you think somebody’s monthly cell phone bill would increase if they’re going from 4G to 5G?

Bryan Darr 23:05
Well, now there are some analysts in the industry that could probably do a far better job of answering that question than I can. Okay. But in terms of, of what the carriers have, at least attempted to push out and test the waters with is an extra 10 bucks a month, you know. But, but it’s going to ultimately, they’re going to have to do a little bit of testing, you know, testing the waters and see what it is people are willing to pay for. You know, people have been getting phones for effectively free, okay, almost free. It’s not necessarily a very good phone. Samsung Galaxy 10 comes out, and I mean, it’s a hugely popular phone. It’s a thousand dollars. It’s, it’s over $1,000. I just bought my son one for Christmas. That’s really what he wanted for Christmas. So I know exactly what they cost. And the new iPhone, you know, is a similar price point. There are people willing to spend that money. So, but you asked, what, what was necessary to make all of this happen? And now, I mentioned spectrum. I mentioned investment from the operators, but you also have infrastructure. In order to be able to deliver these kinds of speeds, you can’t just go put a stick in the ground, wrap some antennas on the top of it, plug it into the electrical system, and boom, you’ve got 5G, or 4G for that matter. You’ve actually got to have fiber to all the way to the antenna with 5G. Fiber, if you are in an area that does not have a significant amount of fiber capacity, then you can put all the 5G antennas in that you want, but you’re not going to realize the kind of experience that 5G ultimately can promise. Okay. So building out, either building out a broadband network where it doesn’t exist at all, okay, in the ground fiber, in the ground type thing, as well as being able to increase the capacity within the areas that have a very dense population, there may already be fiber in an area. But fiber typically doesn’t run up and down every street, even in big cities. It’s very disruptive. They tear up sidewalks and streets to put it in. Okay. But that’s exactly what’s going to be needed in order to be able to bring this technology forward. You’ve got low-band spectrum, mid-band spectrum, high-band spectrum. Low-band spectrum is what cellular was initially launched with. The mid-band spectrum as what we saw as the PCs players started rolling out, what’s important now, sprint and T-Mobile, pretty much, but some of the spectrum is owned by AT&T and Verizon. And remember, you have small rural operators out there, as well, that provide a lot of coverage in this country where the big players either don’t provide coverage at all or provide it very sketchily. So that’s, I just, I think they often don’t get a whole lot of recognition. People don’t necessarily know who they are, but if you’re driving to the Grand Canyon on vacation, if you’re driving to Glacier National Park, you’re going to be on one of these operators at one point, you might not even know it, but you will. So there’s a lot of, lot of stuff that goes into making what we have today available, and a lot of players. The fiber, though, is going to be critical, and within rural parts of the country, there’s very little fiber.

Jay Clouse 26:18
And the fiber would be a private operator, like these cable companies? It’s not the municipality, for example, that’s responsible?

Bryan Darr 26:25
There are, there are hundreds of fiber players out there. AT&T and Verizon own a tremendous amount of fiber, but they by no means command the market share on that that they do within the mobile space within the mobile, within the wireless space. But within big cities, you’re going to see very high band spectrum rolling out, and that’s what Verizon’s already doing. And if you go look at their coverage maps, you go, you kind of scratch your head and go what, because there’s only a few blocks that end up getting covered. Okay. What Sprint rolled out was mid-band spectrum, its coverage is significantly larger. And what T-Mobile’s been rolling out right now is on low-band spectrum. So the speed improvements that you’re seeing, as you go to 5G within these rural areas on the low band spectrum, are better, but it’s not the kind of 10 times jump that you’re going to see, okay, because it’s low band. And all of these carriers ultimately are going to use a mix. Within the big cities where you have this millimeter wave or very high band spectrum, it travels a very short distance, but has an enormous capacity capability. It can really grab a lot of data and shove it through the pipe very fast. And so that’s what you need in an area where you’ve got thousands of people within a few square blocks, okay? That’s not necessarily what you have to have in South Dakota. Okay, you can still get a very good experience because there’s going to be a lot fewer people on the network. But those are, as talking about spectrum, though, those are the types of differences. And AT&T, what AT&T has just launched on 5G is largely on their low- and mid-band spectrum number. So, but we’re going to see ultimately all of the operators providing these different tools. It’s like tools in a toolbox. Within this type of area, where you have a very, very dense population, that’s what you’re going to need. You’re gonna need that high band spectrum with an overlay of the other bands. But it’s not practical for a signal that only travels two blocks to be pushed out into a rural area.

Eric Hornung 28:29
There’s a eventual maturation of, Okay, we laid out this high-band, mid-band, low-band, and we’ve done it, right? Jow long until we’re there?

Bryan Darr 28:39
Well, there are other factors that are impacting us. So when you’re when you’re talking about the low band spectrum, like T Mobile has rolled out a tremendous amount of the country on that very, very quickly. Okay, so that can’t happen faster. But the investment that, that Verizon is making right now–and that the others will follow with–wat you’re seeing is difficulty in really making, getting all of these sites in block by block by block in cities. One of the projects I’ve been working on over the last year that we’ve been working on with our partners at Deloitte is a system that would actually allow municipalities to better deal with the massive influx of requests for permits, for access to drop in, to place polls and the right of way, or to attach to existing polls that are in the cities right away. Sometimes the cities own the polls, sometimes the utility companies own the polls, a few of these polls are, of course, still owned by people like AT&T, telecommunications companies that built them years ago. And so there’s a mishmash of this out there. And you have to get, there’s three things you have to have to be able to properly transmit a cellular signal. Now aside from all of the radio equipment and so forth, in terms of the sighting of that equipment, you’ve got to have height, you’ve got to have power, and you’ve got to have connectivity. Those are the three things that you’ve got to have. You cannot put these radios in the ground. Fiber can be buried. But the antennas that ultimately are going to connect with our mobile devices have got to be above ground. The millimeter way because it is so high frequency, it’s very easy to interfere with it. If you had it down at eye level, then just a bus coming up alongside is going to interfere with the signal being able to reach the other side of the street. So trees, even, they’re having to plan the locations based upon how many trees that a city has actually planted along the sidewalks, you know, or within a city park. And these trees grow and they change shape and sometimes they get cut down and a different tree goes. So imagine, you know, just with the traffic going up and down the street that’s changing every moment, and then you have other things that change slowly over time. And all of these are going to ultimately impact the usability of a particular site and where it’s placed. So it’s all going to have to be watched carefully, and they’re going to have to have metrics that tell them which sites are, are not working as well as they were intended.

Eric Hornung 31:08
When do we know when it’s time for 6G? And what does 6G look like?

Bryan Darr 31:13
Wow. That’s um, you know, there are folks already talking about, you know, working on, you know, some of the equipment and the theoretical aspects of it. These generations tend to roll over about every decade, okay. Now the equipment continues to improve, and it’s not that it doesn’t get better, and of course, the handsets get better, but, you know, I would expect that if, you know, the next significant change in all of this is going to be that you’re referring to a 6G , shouldwill probably be somewhere in a 10 year timeframe. I’m not sure they’re going to call it that. You’ve got the cable operators out there pushing, that they have pushing 10G, but it’s means something very different. It’s not a 10th generation, it’s that they’re now pushing 10gig fiber connectivity to your home or business. And so when the marketing aspects of that start breaking down, you kind of wonder whether or not that pathway ultimately is going to hold.

Jay Clouse 32:15
I’m still confused by the iPhone 10. iPhone 10, iPhone x, before the iPhone 9. Anyway, what are the international implications of 5G? You know, I hear some rumblings of United States has to move faster on this because otherwise it will fall behind, and like what does that actually mean if some country says you know what, we are going to put all in as a nation to get 5G ubiquitous?

Bryan Darr 32:37
Well, I’m so glad you asked the question because it gives me a segue into saying that people should go check out our 5G deployment map. Okay, we at Ookla put out a map that’s, just…just search for Ookla 5G map.

Eric Hornung 32:51
We will link to it in the show notes.

Bryan Darr 32:53
Great. And you’ll be able to see, you know, where we’ve been able to track these networks and we track them a couple of different ways. We actually collect information, you know, as the operators release that information, okay? And announce it. So we have a research team that tracks all of that. But of course, we’re also getting real time information that’s coming from people running speed tests. And some of the phones, by the way, have not been particularly good at distinguishing in the data that comes off of them whether or not it’s actually a 4G network or a 5G network. But we’ve been able to define that, our data scientists have been able to separate those, those types of tests out and be able to define whether the, you know, with, with a high level of confidence if this is a 5G or a 4G test. Some of it frankly, you know, if you’re getting 2gig speed, okay, it’s not 4G. Okay, to be fair, But you know, that’s, that’s already improving. And we’re, you know, we’re seeing that the devices and the software in them, you know, catching up to the ultimately the needs that these developers have, as well as what we need to measure this. The 5g map, you’ll see that, you know, there’s been an explosion of 5G here in North America, particularly as T Mobile has covered so much of the country. And you’ve had these new launches. You know, Verizon, you know, hit their target of a little over 30 cities, AT&T’s launched a couple of dozen or so cities here recently, I think, middle of December. And so, you know, we’re, we’re starting to see that really happen in a big way. Switzerland, and South Korea were the two countries that we saw a lot of really early activity, and you’ll see that on the map. There’s tremendous number of communities, not you know, when people say they, they launched, you know, a big city, did we launch New York or did we launch Bonn, Germany or something, when it comes to 5G, that may only be a few blocks, depending upon what they’ve knit, what they’ve used, what spectrum they’ve used for that initial rollout. Okay. But we’re starting to see Germany, we’re seeing you know, testing in the UK, we’re seeing lots of places in Europe. But there’s but go out there and take a look at the map. There’s some pretty significant countries–France–that don’t have any 5G launches at this point. And, and that can be impacted, as I said before, about whether the spectrum has been made available or how long it’s been available for the companies to actually get it implemented, you know, as well as in, you know, the types of investment that’s needed in this very new, pretty expensive technology. So at this point, in developing countries, really across Central and South America, we’re seeing very little activity across most of Africa, we’re seeing very little activity. Middle East, on the other hand, the Arabian Peninsula…Go check out the map, I think you’ll find it really interesting.

Jay Clouse 35:39
Is there any geopolitical implication of that? You know, if a country is just like fully operating on 5G, are they going to have a higher rate of financial transactions so they can just like trade at a higher rate? I don’t know what the implications are, but is there any, is what I’m asking?

Bryan Darr 35:54
Certainly there are implications to this. And you’re going to be able to provide these types of services to people. I was talking about the translation a few minutes ago if you that’s, you can kind of do it on 4G now, but it’s clunky and it’s, it’s not, it’s not awesome, right? You’re going to have an enormous amount of distinction in one country to another as far as the types and levels of services that… But you have that today. You’ve got a lot of countries around the rover 4G hasn’t been rolled out, or certainly doesn’t even have the bandwidth, even if they have a 4G signal, if the bandwidth isn’t there to support it, then there are certain things you just can’t do. Now, we saw mobile banking rollout over Africa, okay, using text messages, because they were effectively unbanked. And so they skipped over 100 years of wired telephone service technology through–certainly throughout the rural areas of Africa and other parts of world Asia, South America–to suddenly have a technology, and they implemented stuff that we still don’t really, we still have a lot of people in this country that don’t use the mobile banking apps that are now available on your phones, okay? They’re just not comfortable with it. They’re not used to it. So it’s always going to be, it’s always going to be varying levels of adoption. And ultimately, that’s, that’s a big part of it, is will the…how quickly will the public take it up? How quickly will they bring in their devices and upgrade them? Because I don’t care what that iPhone says, if it says 5GE on there, it’s not 5G. And that phone will never, the phones that you’re running around with today from Apple or the older Android phones, are never going to pick up 5G. You will have to upgrade your equipment if you haven’t already.

Jay Clouse 37:43
Bryan, this has been awesome. Thanks for sharing so much with us. If people want to learn more about you or Ookla after the show, where should they go?

Bryan Darr 37:49
Well, you can go to Ookla. com. You can go to SpeedTest.com. We have another site also, Mosaik.com, which was the company that I ran for 30 years, it’s now part of UCLA. A lot of our information about government and things like that are out there as well. And I certainly appreciate the opportunity to come talk to you today. It’s been a great show so far.

Jay Clouse 38:09
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Eric Hornung 38:48
All right, Jay, we just spoke with Bryan Darr of Ookla. Fast, give me your quick thoughts.

Jay Clouse 38:54
This is going to take a while. It’s gonna take a while to roll all this out. I’ve heard some horror stories of companies that were trying to install fiber into cities and even would do it for free to kind of test new methods, and cities would take that on. Was that Louisville where we heard that story? Talking with the Chief Innovation Officer of Louisville on a trip a few months back, sounded like there was some real downside to botched fiber efforts. And if 5G is dependent on, first of all multiple layers of players here–love rhymes–lot of dominoes to fall over. And if the last domino is actually installing cable in all of these very specific geographic areas at scale, just sounds like a big undertaking.

Eric Hornung 39:38
Yeah, it’s a huge capital expenditure for all of these companies. And I think Bryan said there’s over 19,000 municipalities in the United States, which is something that we’ve talked about before with Astro AR and maybe a few other companies. That’s just a lot of stakeholders to buy into this idea, even at the, using the 80/20 rule, I mean 20% of 20,000 is still a lot of town hall meetings to go to.

Jay Clouse 40:08
Right. And the other side of the coin, though, you know, I’ll be driving along, and I’ll look up at the telephone poles, and I just think is this really still the way we’re doing this? You know, like we just got miles and miles and miles of cables just being strung through the air. And a future where things are laid underground and maybe we clean all that up, maybe, maybe 5G is the impetus to start putting all this underground.

Eric Hornung 40:33
Didn’t Bryan talked about poles in the interview and how they are owned by various parties? It made me feel like I don’t think the polls are going away, and fiber maybe can be strung.

Jay Clouse 40:42
It seems like antennas aren’t going to go away. But I think wires, wires they gotta go, they gotta go. I’m just sick of wires.

Jay Clouse 40:50
Alright Jays, the anti-wire. You guys here heard it here first on the Upside podcast.

Jay Clouse 40:55
Something that Bryan brought up off air, actually, as we’re just kind of talking. You know in the intro, we talked about fears around radiation and signals going through the air. He shared some pretty compelling statistics about the actual wattage of some of these 5G signals compared to other basic technologies that you have in your home. Microwaves, for example, or the science behind, the more the further away your phone is from a receiving tower, the harder your phone has to work and the more wattage it is putting out. So you actually are better off being closer to towers. Interesting ideas that, you know, I hope that education can make the rounds if this is something that the country is going to invest in, that cities are going to invest in. It sounds like there’s a lot of historical baggage as far as how we think about things that needs to change. And hopefully that happens

Eric Hornung 41:48
When we bring this back to the core of Upside, thinking about founders building companies outside of Silicon Valley, one of the questions we’ve been asking lately is, why now? Why is right now the right time for this company? And I think about a couple of just technologies that couldn’t have existed before that first spectrum opened up. GPS, for exampl., Google Maps bought a promising startup that kind of commercialized the first GPS and that now, that is the foundation of Google Maps. I think YouTube is another example where the founder had the idea for YouTube for so long. And at his pitch to Sequoia or whoever it was, he explained how this new bandwidth that was opening up was going to actually allow for the idea to become reality because there would be enough bandwidth with all the new, whatever technological infrastructure was in place. So my question with 5G is, what does it allow to be new or different that 4G doesn’t besides having more data?

Jay Clouse 42:55
Right, right. There’s got to be something that we can experience even nearer to real time that we don’t even realize that we’re missing. Or maybe we do realize that it’s missing.

Eric Hornung 43:05
And maybe that’s just something as simple as AR and VR right now are this kind of pie in the sky, they take up too much, there’s too much going on with it. And I can’t even use, so Google Maps right now has an AR function on its turn by turn directions for when you’re walking. And I can’t use it because it kills my battery so fast by sucking up so much data, by doing all of this stuff. So maybe in a world of 5G, that’s just like no different than sending a text message.

Jay Clouse 43:33
What I’m really looking forward to is with 5G, I will instantaneously receive all those emails saying wow, Jay, you are really good with words.

Eric Hornung 43:42
Oh, man, we’re still on this?

Jay Clouse 43:43
There’ll be no latency between a listener sharing that compliment and me receiving it. So that’s a future that I can really look forward to.

Eric Hornung 43:51
And if that’s the future you can look forward to, you can hit us up on Twitter @upsidefm or you can send us an email at hello@upside.fm. Jay, I don’t think you’re actually going to set up that inbox, are you? Please say you’re not.

Jay Clouse 44:03
I will.

Eric Hornung 44:03
Okay. So you can send an email to jaywowyourereallygoodwithwords@upside.fm if you want to tell Jay that or if you just want to troll him. We will see you next week.

Interview starts: 7:25
Debrief starts: 38:48

Bryan Darr is the Executive Vice President of Smart Cities at Ookla, the company behind Speedtest.net.

Bryan began his career in wireless communication back in 1985 selling car phones. Through his sales, he gathered information and began writing roaming guides. These guides ultimately led him to start his own business, American Roamer, eventually known as Mosaik, and now owned by Ookla. Today, along with providing internet speed tests, Ookla tracks cellular coverage all over the world.

We discuss:

  • Ad: Finding experienced employees for your new business with Integrity Power Search (6:08)
  • Progression of cellular communication (7:45)
  • Future of cellular communication (11:26)
  • Difference between one “G” to the next (14:50)
  • 5G technology (16:49)
  • Impediments to 5G usability (21:17)
  • News for 6G? (21:08)
  • International implications of 5G (32:15)
  • Geopolitical implications of 5G (35:39)

Learn more about Ookla: https://www.ookla.com/
Ookla 5G Map: https://www.speedtest.net/ookla-5g-map
Email Jay: jaywowyourereallygoodwithwords@upside.fm
Follow upside on Twitter: https://twitter.com/upsidefm
Advertise with an upside classified: https://upside.fm/classifieds

This episode is sponsored by Integrity Power Search, the #1 full stack high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disrupting companies.

Learn more about or get in touch with Integrity Power Search: https://upside.fm/integrity