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January 09, 2017

The 5G Myth: A Book Review

Are you skeptical about the new generation of wireless broadband technology that is being discovered? If you answered “Yes,” that’s all right because you aren’t alone. Professor William Webb, deputy chair, Cambridge Wireless and CEO, Weightless SIG, is one of the world’s leading wireless communications experts and he also shares your concerns.

In his new book, “The 5G Myth,” he states that the vision of 5G is flawed. Rather than advancing in global connectivity, users will simply not value the higher data rates promised and will not need the higher capacity forecasted. Webb argues that the vision won’t be fully realized because technological advances are insufficient to deliver it and because mobile operators are not profitable enough to afford it.

He discusses the findings of the book, sets out why the vision of 5G as currently promoted by major players is a myth and discusses what is more likely to transpire. “The 5G Myth” details how a world of connected devices, enhanced coverage, myriad of new applications and greater productivity can be achieved more quickly and cost-effectively than with the current vision.

“Despite the clearly flawed case for 5G, it is not in the interests of any of the stakeholders to point this out because they all benefit from the interest, funding and potential that 5G promises,” said Webb. “But there is an alternative vision where industry focuses on consistent connectivity everywhere rather than unnecessarily fast speeds in city centers.”

Webb goes into further detail as to why he feels that 5G won’t be what it’s advertised to be when it finally gets released. He begins by going back into the history of this wireless broadband technology. He offers information regarding the transitions through previous generations. He shows what simple assumptions of trends would predict for 5G. His research shows that if previous trends were followed, 5G would become widely deployed in 2022, deliver realistic end-user data rates of 200Mbits/s and an increase in capacity of around 2x compared to current networks.

He poses the question of whether such increases in speed and capacity are needed for connectivity. Mobile phone users do not value speeds above those already widely available on 4G. While data requirements are currently growing rapidly, the rate of growth is slowing and if extended will result in a plateau in data rate requirements around 2027, with little growth in the 5G era. The overall message that Webb wants you to take away is that the advances in speed and capacity that 5G might bring are not needed. Any additional capacity improvements are very difficult and likely to be expensive to realize. They’ll most likely raise the cost of provision for MNOs. Speed improvements are only available in very high frequency bands proving that there really aren’t easy gains from technological improvements.

The book also suggests that some changes to the core network may have unexpected side effects of enabling different industry structures, splitting the functions provided by MNOs today across multiple players. Were you aware that industry economics show that MNOs are in a position of declining revenues relative to GDP and that profitability of only half the average across all industry sectors? It is the general expectation that this will change with 5G. The result of this change will be that investment is highly unattractive unless revenue growth can be stimulated through the delivery of new services.

Why, if there is little hope, is the industry collectively appearing so supportive of 5G? Webb feels that it’s not in the interest of any of the key players to cast doubt on the 5G vision and that for some the emergence of 5G is essential to their very survival.

These are some of the unachievable visions set out for 5G, according to Webb. Connectivity will reach farther and be for all devices. The new broadband will have the ability to combine signals from multiple frequency bands more flexibly depending on location, time, and application and so enable more stable connectivity. Low latency to support those services/applications whose requirements cannot be met using existing technologies. The take home message is that the visions are flawed and that their breadth and lack of reality adds confusion. What might happen instead of the current 5G vision for consumers to rely on? The book suggests that consistent connectivity of around 10Mbits/s everywhere is a more compelling vision and shows how it can be delivered via a mix of 4G and Wi-Fi, outlining a possible path for its introduction showing how this could result in seismic changes to the structure of the industry.

No matter what newly developed version of wireless broadband they come up with next, the most important thing to consumers is that the device works properly and to the device’s full potential. Webb has his own ideas on why the new 5G won’t work. Only time will tell if it is successful or not.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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