Alaska has some of the most remote regions in the United States, with formidable weather and vast terrain that make bringing connectivity to parts of the state a challenge and huge undertaking. However, through GCI's deployment of high-speed internet to these areas, the Alaskan provider has allowed businesses, entrepreneurs, schools, and hospitals to thrive, boosting the quality of life for many residents there. In 2011, GCI built the TERRA network over 3,300 miles of land, bringing terrestrial broadband to 84 communities. Then in 2016, GCI brought gigabit service to Anchorage, and from there extended coverage to additional regions. Today, gigabit speeds are available to 84 percent of Alaskans. And just this week, GCI unveiled the latest of its projects that will further break down the connectivity barriers for Alaska's rural areas. In a partnership with Ericsson—a global leader in mobile wireless technology—the regional operator is set to deploy a 5G network during the first half of 2020.
The move marks Alaska's first 5G network, which will cover approximately 1,200 square miles in the largest city in the state. GCI CEO Ron Duncan said the provider is starting with Anchorage because it has the largest footprint in the state. "5G will be one of the biggest initiatives in GCI's history, an investment in tens of millions of dollars in Anchorage alone," said Duncan. Duncan added that GCI aims to roll out 5G to all of the other fiber-served areas in Alaska in the near future, including Juneau and Fairbanks.
Anchorage will be only the 22nd city in the world to deploy Ericsson's 5G technology. The GCI team plans to install the 5G technology and to upgrade cell sites this year, as well as to integrate GCI's wireless network, metro fiber, and cable plant to enable managed WiFi and other technologies. "The result will be a wireline wireless experience that will provide our customers nearly ubiquitous data connectivity across the city. ... This means that 5G is going to be really, really fast, and it will be everywhere," said Duncan.
With Alaska now marked as one of the earlier territories to receive 5G, Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm remarked that it's time to stop calling Alaska, "The Last Frontier," and start calling the state "The First Frontier." He added, "The introduction of 5G will create a powerful platform for innovation. Using 5G, new use cases benefitting society, consumers, and enterprises will be created. Consumers will benefit from a premium experience with faster speeds and better coverage, while new wireless functionality will accelerate applications for the oil and gas, mining, and health care industries across Alaska."
And if GCI's history, partnership with Ericsson, and long-standing commitment to Alaskans is any indication, residents statewide can expect more exciting developments in connectivity and technology over the next few years.