Feature Article

November 05, 2014

5G Value is Fuzzy, That's Okay, for Now

Nobody knows, yet, what “fifth generation” mobile networks will be. Some even doubt 5G will fundamentally be based on “faster speeds,” as has been the case for most prior generations.

5G will offer "sufficient rate to give the user the impression of infinite capacity"; it will allow the Internet of Things to thrive; and it will deliver very low latency of one millisecond or less, according to the 5G Innovation Centre.

So look at each of the principles. “Infinite capacity” likely is more a matter of seamless integration of all access networks and resources, combining access to all fixed resources, in addition to mobile networks.

Support for the Internet of Things is a focus on applications the network supports, not the air interface, modulation techniques or bandwidth.

Latency performance obviously does not even concern “network speed” or “bandwidth.”

So at least so far, “5G” is less about speed or bandwidth, and more about applications or “intended purposes” than any prior generations.

But it might be reasonable to suggest that when thinking is so conditioned by an emphasis on apps, latency and integration, that 5G could develop in ways we do not foresee.

In fact, some visions of what 5G will be seem to be just that: visions. But 5G will be eminently practical and well-defined. It has to be, at the physical level.

So, in the end, we might find that 5G winds up being both more practical and simple than we now hear talked about.

Recall the predictions for 3G and 4G. Both were supposed to be platforms for unknown “new applications.” And that did happen. But not in the way backers predicted and supposed.  

In the end, the actual “physical” standards for 5G will matter, not the broader “vision,” even if most observers keep emphasizing the vision.

Our vision has been cloudy in the past. At least so far, there seems little reason to believe we have gotten so much better at the “vision thing.”

If we don’t yet know how business models, apps and consumer adoption will change with 5G that is okay. We never got it completely right before.

For the moment, there is a lot of maneuvering going on, for competitive advantage in 5G that seems to require such sweeping visions. That seems unnecessary. Creating seamless connectivity with very low latency (again with the objective of eliminating the difference between locally-resident apps and remote apps) seems a worthy enough objective, even if some new spectrum likely will be added. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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