Good News for People in the 5G Business: You Are Living in Interesting Times

Carl Weinschenk
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Enterprise Mobility Management Myth Busters: Users vs. IT Reality

If there is one surprise about 5G – and, indeed, there are many – it is how fast it seems to be coming. A while ago, the common wisdom was that it would move into the mainstream in 2020. We are not even halfway through 2016 and the speed with which carriers are making announcements – as well as the sheer amount of noise about the new technology – makes it seem that the 2020 date will be beaten.

More news came this week. WirelessWeek reports that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam reiterated and expanded upon comments made by CFO Fran Shammo in April about a plan to finance the move to 5G. The path to 5G will be paved, he said, with revenue from fixed wireless. An interesting element in the story is that writer Diana Goovaets says that McAdams “wouldn’t argue” – in McAdam’s words – about the 2020 arrival date for mobile 5G wireless. Fixed wireless, however, could come sooner.

The obsolescence of the 2020 date became more obvious at The Big Communications Event conference held this week in Austin. There, according to Light Reading’s Dan Jones, Dave Wolter, AT&T’s assistant vice president of Radio Technology and Architecture, said that it will begin a friendly-customer trial of 5G by the end of the year. Verizon plans such trials in 2017, Jones noted.

Jones suggested that there is a bit of fuzziness around what AT&T announced. The upshot is that the tests may focus on the industry’s Phase 1 5G specification, which is aimed at 5 Gigabits per second (Gbps) or faster throughput.

The piece also quotes Wolter as saying that the company doesn’t yet understand everything it needs to know about 5G. Thus, the company – and the industry as a whole – is clearly scrambling to put the building blocks in place for fast rollouts, even as it learns the identity of those building (and, no doubt, stumbling) blocks.

The bottom line is that 5G is so different from the first four Gs and so promising that the carriers and the venders with whom they work are rushing in what seems to be an unprecedented way to get the pieces in place. It’s a good idea, then, to take a look at what 5G really is – and what it is not. That’s what Amy Nordrum did at the IEEE Spectrum. More specifically, she reported on a speech by Seizo Onoe, the chief technology officer for NTT DOCOMO, on what 5G is not. It’s important to understand the immaturity of the 5G concept:

But in many cases, the term ‘5G’ is bandied about as a panacea that already exists. That’s why Seizo Onoe, CTO of NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s largest mobile carrier, is traveling around to conferences trying to keep everyone’s expectations in check. ‘In the early 2000s, there was a concrete 4G technology but no one called it 4G,’ Onoe laments. ‘Today, there are no contents of 5G but everyone talks about 5G, 5G, 5G.’

In his keynote at the IEEE International Conference on Communications in Kuala Lumpur, Onoe said that five pieces of common wisdom about 5G are not necessarily true: That it is not a given that 5G will be based on hot spot-based systems; that it will require great investment; that it will replace 4G; that it will require more bandwidth than carriers have access to today; and that it will serve each and every end user need.

We are at a very interesting point: Carriers are announcing friendly-user trials – something that usually happens very close to commercialization – while executives are delivering keynotes to knowledgeable audiences that still dwell on basic definitions and expectations.

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 and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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