More frequently, I see media comments about 5G or hear questions about 5G wireless technology. I mostly ignore it ,but as there’s steady increases in the amount of daily hype around it, I’m wondering why?
This year was a big year for 4G and many geographies are in some phase of either enjoying it, dealing with the choices of multiple carriers that provide it, or about to get it deployed.
4G LTE initial deployments have been initially, largely, 20MHz of spectrum per operator for a typical speed of 13-35MBps to end users. It is a bell curve, as there are 5Mhz geographies and multi-carrier deployments too but most users seem to be served in suburban and urban areas from 20MHz channels.
Following initial launch , some of the largest carriers have gotten busy deploying VoLTE (Voice over LTE), and some have been extending spectrum with additional bands to boost speeds/deal with capacity issues. Just recently, a major operator had an open discussion about reducing 3G spectrum and reforming to 4G, which is a major milestone in the adoption of 4G LTE.
On the other hand, some major consumer wrinkles still exist such as seamless global roaming, basic 4G LTE global/universal availability (especially indoors or rural environments), advanced feature roll outs such as multi-carrier, broadcast multicast, VoLTE everywhere and so on. The good news is there is some progress evolving…
Verizon Wireless and AT&T Move Toward Voice over LTE (VoLTE) Interoperability; Working With Other Providers to Expand Interoperability Across the Industry
So the 4G LTE networks are turning up and our carrier friends have even started adding multiple carriers/spectrums to extend the capacity.
Now begin 5G hype.
SO, just looking through the internet you will get a sense that 5G is more 4G LTE. At this point that’s dead on, as there’s no standard written yet for 5G. Furthermore, there’s not really compelling business case to push it forward at the moment. But back to the technology for a moment. Each generation, or G, of wireless brought a fundamental improvement that was dramatically/disruptively different than before. 2G enhanced usability but more importantly dramatically improved capacity. 3G the same, plus integrated mobile wireless broadband. 4G’s story is around efficiency and capability. Cheaper to deliver to end user, faster for the end user etc… Currently 5G seems to be more of the 4G, like better SON, bigger channels. Many point to the speed milestone of achieving 1Gbps over the air, but at what efficiency? Haven’t really seen a disruptive or game changing technology that could be leveraged into a disruptive business plan yet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If all we are talking about is gigabit wireless, then there’s WiFi already and more levels of MiMO and more spectrum we can apply to 4G to brag that we got there without any G changes… If we are talking about 100Gbit for everyone, then on the other hand, some breakthroughs that I think are 5G are:
Full duplex communication (Using the same channel to talk bi-directionally simultaneously). Currently wireless is half duplex in channel, either employing a Time Division Duplex (TDD) approach to share the air or a separate path for a channel to and from the user.
UUUULLLLTTTTRRRRRAAA wideband. I mean, let’s go to 1GHz or greater channels. I think this could be the basis of a peer to peer wireless system that could undo and disrupt the carriers. Optical counts. I don’t want to buy a WiFi router from home because my Samsung OLEDs have transceivers.
Merger of access and backhaul technology into a single standard– Whatever you use over the edge, should be so efficient, it would be stupid to use something different as backhaul etc…regardless of PHY layer access (fiber, microwave/RF etc..) This also begs for meshing and peer to peer which is on everyone’s mind already, but the technology itself needs to be absolutely extensible and scalable from end user through the internet.
Security- Meaningful security features. We don’t really have any.
Cognitive radio– meaning every device sort of negotiates with whatever else is out there and uses whatever is available for the best purpose. No more fixed channel/technology assignments. Who needs youtube when you can just massively directly distribute your bits directly from your security cam, refrigerator etc…? Anyway, who is going to be able to manage the Internet of Everything/IoT (although many want you to pay them to try.) The complexity of EVERYTHING communicating with everything else is beyond human ability to control in a 1:1 fashion. Like the universe. Dark matter filaments->Galaxies etc.. too big of a scale.
WiFi->LTE/5G Merger – There’s really no need for WiFi and LTE. A single standard would be much more efficient for all with no difference between unlicensed and licensed networking technologies. Buy one for home or use the big one on the mountain for a fee. Same devices. Meter turns both ways. You are the carrier too.
This is great stuff but there’s still reality to deal with. Today’s 4G LTE networks are by far not very mature.. The whole business case of 4G LTE is to reduce the cost per bit for mobility users dramatically. Without doing much, just overlaying LTE over 3G will reduce your over the air costs theoretically. The carriers should be dramatically be saving money with the migration of users onto 4G LTE from 2G/3G but somehow that mega shift is not very loud on the balance sheets. The primary reason for this is the raw state of deployment. The average efficiency is somewhere around 20% of the potential, over the air, and that’s money just circling the drain.
I’m still waiting/looking forward, as a consumer, to leveraging Broadcast Multicast Services for some more interesting services like better local media for things like traffic/audio/video that can be done far better than just Youtube etc… VoLTE with its HD Voice everywhere, CoMP for better throughputs with existing sites etc…
Before we begin the 5G hype cycle in earnest, 4G LTE has many levers to pull. There are many more efficiency enhancing measures in future/upcoming revisions of the the networking standards and there’s a whole new way of operating as I mentioned previously that dramatically shifts that cost/bit line down that the operators have not scratched the surface on yet. Let’s not defer the work we need to do today to the undefined 5G hype just yet. This baby was just born.
PS: Let’s move the needle from <20% efficiency to >50% efficiency (very achievable, just ask me) and let’s unleash amazing transformations of this business.