Slowly but surely, 5G – the next cellular standard – is finding its way into the news. It’s a long road before 5G is actually formalized and an even longer one before it is in mobile devices. But it is important to pay attention to it now.
In general, the pace of change dictates the amount of money it is prudent invest in the current technology. In this case, it is especially important. The promise is that 5G is going to be fast enough to perform some of the tasks in which current and future wired networks will be involved. Thus, investments in two fundamental networking platforms, cellular and wired, will be influenced by 5G development.
Lightreading’s Robert Clark, in a report about the consensus emerging around 5G features, notes what the new 5G standard will look like, at least from a very high level:
Despite the anxiety over the timing, the Asian cellcos are benefiting from the agreement about the likely shape of 5G, namely: LTE at the core; massive MIMO to take advantage of very high frequencies; latency as low as 1-2mms; and much greater energy efficiency.
The flow of news is gaining momentum. Clark notes that the situation is far different than in the early days of 3G and 4G (LTE) when, at this point in the process, the landscape was characterized by dissension.
A downside to that seemingly good news: Takehiro Nakamura, the managing director of DoCoMo’s 5G Laboratory, suggests that the lack of a competitive technology eventually could lead to inertia. 3G and 4G were pushed by other technologies. Indeed, in the case of LTE, WiMax very nearly won.
The progress these early birds are making is illustrated, perhaps inadvertently, by a piece in Ars Technica. A challenge is that 5G will have to support an essentially uncountable number of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. Bell Labs, which belongs to Alcatel Lucent, proposes segregating the signals from these devices into their own spectrum. This would keep them from interfering with more substantial signals such as those for video.
Bell Labs hopes that this idea will make it into the 5G spec. The very fact that this legitimate concern has already reached the front of the line suggests that more fundamental issues have been settled. In other words, if somebody is building a house from scratch, it is a good sign if the contractor is discussing the types of molding the buyer wants.
The marketing push is well underway. CNNMoney reports on Nokia’s demonstration at the Brooklyn 5G summit this week of a 5G network with peak speeds of 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps). The story mentions a Samsung network that tested at 7.5 Gbps.
To its credit, the story mentions the great practical obstacles that must be bypassed before people will be able to download movies in super high-definition to their smartphones in seconds. However, caveats or not, the industry is doing what it always does: Promising glitzy results before the job is anywhere in sight. It’s as if that contract started the molding conversation before the foundation was poured.
5G is inevitable. It seems to be ahead of where previous cellular standards were at this point in the arc of development. The industry sees the need and has a refined idea of what must happen to actually bring a standards effort to fruition. The challenge, as Nakamura pointed out, is to keep the momentum going.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.