GCI is partnering with telecommunications company Ericsson for what the Alaska company says is one of its biggest initiatives in its history: 5G NR service that will benefit thousands of customers with faster and more reliable wireless service.

GCI CEO and co-founder Ron Duncan, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Borje Ekholm, president and CEO of Ericsson, spoke during the announcement at Alaska Pacific University on Tuesday.

Duncan said Anchorage will be the 22nd city in the world to deploy Ericsson's 5G NR technology. Duncan said Ericsson will deploy Ericsson's 3GPP Standards-Based 5G New Radio hardware and software to 82 cell sites across the Municipality of Anchorage from Girdwood to Eklutna. According to a release from GCI, 5G NR is the global standard for a unified 5G wireless air interface.

"5G will support new technologies and applications, including smart city initiatives, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality and others. It will also enable Alaska's participation in what's being called the fourth industrial revolution. Anchorage will serve as the model for GCI's network modernization efforts as we move forward to expand to other communities as well," Duncan said.

Ekholm told the crowd that 5G will be part of critical infrastructure just like roads, ports and airports. Ekholm says Ericsson estimates there will be about 1.9 billion subscriptions globally by 2024.

"GCI joins what I would call an elite group of operators that are going to be early to launch 5G. So maybe it's time to rephrase, not call Alaska the Last Frontier, but rather the first frontier," Ekholm said.

The mayor said he hopes the service will entice investors and future residents to the municipality, as well as benefiting those who already call Anchorage home.

"It's one of those things that will make us a more attractive place to bring in new businesses and new populations. But it also makes us a more attractive place for those already here," said Berkowitz.

GCI officials also say 5G capabilities also include faster video downloads, real-time language translation and remote surgery possibilities.

When asked about health concerns with the towers that support 5G technology, GCI's vice president of wireless products Josh Lonn said there's nothing to fear.

"We appreciate the concern. But the reality is, just like any other technology out there, 5G will operate well within scientifically accepted standards for safe use," Lonn said. "And that's on the consumer side as well as on the industrial side." 

People will need a 5G-capable phone to get the full benefits of the service, however people without a 5G phone will still notice improved speeds and better coverage. GCI says it expects the Anchorage 5G network to be complete by the time 5G handsets are widely available on the market.

Customers can expect the service to be available in the first half of 2020. GCI says customer plans and prices won't change initially, but Duncan said they may eventually go down over time as things become more competitive. 

Editor's note: GCI is the parent company of KTVA.

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