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September 22, 2016

No Restraints On 5G Hype While LTE Progresses

Between AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, you might think 5G will be available – as in commercially available, you'll be able to buy a handset – next year.  Not happening. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standard won't be finalized until 2020, meaning there's going to be an ugly amount of "pre-5G" hardware rolling out in Asia. But that isn't going to stop the hype.

"'Real' 5G Is Far Off; Service Providers Struggling to Find Compelling Use Cases, " says IHS Markit's September 12 note from Stéphane Téral.   He says 5G will come in two waves, one using existing spectrum with the second wave of "real" 5G using high-speed, line-of-sight frequencies occurring around 2020.

Verizon is jumping in full-bore on 5G hype, but I have to wonder if the company learned anything from its LTE experiences.   Back in the day, Verizon was the first to promise it would deliver Voice over LTE (VoLTE ) and proclaim that LTE would provide "new business" models, such as wireless in your washing machine enabling people to pay for use by the load.  Both AT&T and T-Mobile deployed VoLTE before Verizon and nobody stuck cellular connectivity into appliances because nobody bought into the idea.

Not to be outdone, T-Mobile floated out a slightly more sane vision for 5G, but mixed models.  Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray blogged, "With incredibly low latency, very high bandwidth and sensors capable of decade-long battery life, 5G networks are set to enable one of the biggest tech transformations in history." You can pick low latency and very high bandwidth OR sensors capable of decades-long battery life for Internet of Things (IoT) applications-- but not both. 

Ray and T-Mobile's parallel YouTube video highlight apps such as mobile virtual reality, augmented reality, AI-enabled real time language translation, and a "nano" bio-monitoring chip. But such things also heavily lean on consumer electronics manufacturers to develop and deliver devices based on standards that won't be finalized until 2020, so the world is at least four years out on the hardware alone before it starts to show up in any sort of significant quantities.

To give T-Mobile its due, the company has demonstrated wireless speeds with Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung of up to 12 Gbps with latency under 2 milliseconds.  But it still begs the question of why you need 12 Gbps streaming AND have to be mobile.  Do you need to have multiple 4K video streams going into a SUV? Mobile virtual reality seems to be a bit of a contradiction in terms if you think about it a bit.

While we wait for 5G to become defined and deployed, upgrades to LTE are delivering faster speeds that might prove sufficient for anyone not desiring to stream multiple 4K video streams to mobile applications.  Depending on which device and "optimal conditions," Verizon's LTE Advanced could reach peek speeds of 225 to 300 Mbps.  Not to be outdone, T-Mobile brags that stacking of its newest technologies could deliver download speeds of up to 400 Mbps across its network.

For 4K streaming, Netflix recommends 25 Mbps, so if all you were doing is streaming video, you could easily send multiple 4K streams to a mobile device on any LTE Advanced network already in operation. You don't need 5Gand it begs the question as to what kind of video experience you're going to get on a mobile device, where (screen) size does matter.   LTE Advanced devices are starting to roll out into the market today.  Maybe by the time you'll get one, cellular carriers will have a new set of hype to explain why 5G is so much better than LTE.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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