5G: First Comes the Hype

Carl Weinschenk
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Last week, I wrote about the progress being made in 5G. Actually, the progress is more on the hype side. It’s not that very smart people aren’t doing a tremendous amount of the early research on the technology. It’s that there is a tremendous amount of work to do. 5G won’t be here, besides perhaps some early exhibitions, until 2020. But the hype has left the station nonetheless.

PR people and the media know a good story when they see it. By this point in our technological evolution, it is clear that the pattern is to drive expectations way up. Invariably, the products or services emerge much more slowly – physics doesn’t read press releases – and fall short of the original unrealistic expectations.

This is called the hype cycle, at least by Gartner. It clearly is starting in the 5G world. The latest piece of news is from Verizon. Network World and other sites report that Verizon said that it soon will begin lab testing of potential 5G technology. Verizon will create “sandbox” areas in the labs in its innovations centers in Waltham, Massachusetts, and San Francisco. It is already working with Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm, Samsung and Cisco. That’s not unimportant – but it’s not earth shattering, either.


It’s not insignificant that the Verizon announcement was covered by USA Today. The site duly noted that 5G will be in development for five years. However, the mere posting of the story by a consumer media site is another sign that the hype cycle is gaining traction.

The hype is even affecting professionals, perhaps unconsciously. A story at Rethink Wireless about an advance in LTE starts with this phrase:

While the chatter gets louder around 5G…

That’s an acknowledgment that the 5G hype has taken hold. In a landscape without such hype, there wouldn’t even be a mention of a technology that is, at best, five years from launching.

I see two differences between the hype surrounding 5G and earlier technological innovations. The first is that this wireless standard has a particularly long ramp up. It is very complicated from an engineering point of view. Even before that attention turns fully to the bits and bytes, important policy and even societal issues will have to be dealt with. This hype is not about an incremental new technology. It focuses on a very fundamental change in the way the world communicates.

The related difference is that 5G will be joined at the hip with other important technologies, all of which have their own hype issues. For instance, Juniper Research found that 5G will reach 240 million users by 2025 because of the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). The hype surrounding 5G and the hype about the IoT are feeding off each other, and feeding well.

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 cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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