5G or not 5G?
Jan 27, 2017 by Kane Mumford


TagsBlog, Vodafone

3GPP’s Release 15 will probably bear the “5G stamp”. This means that there is nothing to stop marketers calling LTE and LTE-advanced technology included in the final documentation “5G” when it is approved around the end of 2018.

This is how these things work, PolicyTracker is told. And by all accounts Release 15 is shaping up to be a milestone release that will include specifications on mmWave and sub-6 GHz, even if policymakers in Europe have said that 5G will initially be a sub-6 GHz affair.

Some homes and businesses in the US may enjoy last-mile connectivity over 28 GHz, but it won’t be 5G. It will be confusing. And will consumers and businesses forgive the drumbeating devotees of next generation technology if they are, at least initially, underwhelmed by 5G?

Whatever your position on whether 5G will be the second coming or a disappointing no-show, the above question might be worth considering. The mobile industry certainly is.

Last October we reported that Vodafone’s chief executive told vendors and operators that “we need to be careful how we proceed and what we promise,” He also said “we sometimes have a tendency in our industry to hide things. You always get the feeling that with 5G we’re going to solve world hunger. But how do we now get it right to the market?”

And while those that can’t lend a hand are often told to get out of the way of the changing times, it is hardly as if their skepticism has done much to knock things off course. 

Policymakers in Europe and the US, for the most part, have done much to give the mobile industry what it needs with financial incentives and legislative assistance, even if the efforts of the European Commission on spectrum award harmonisation tend to be frustrated by the parliament. Still, this shouldn’t get in the way of 5G.

But this is not to diminish the efforts of the likes of William Webb whose recent book, the 5G Myth, received nothing but good reviews across the press and who remains influential figure in the industry. His work struck a chord with observers of the whole process for a good reason, one that it is sometimes in the interest of figures engaged in executing the process to not acknowledge.

Meanwhile, the industry has been more mixed in its tolerance for 5G dissenters. One senior figure from a mobile operator upbraided Webb for having the temerity to provide a reasoned critique of the 5G vision at a recent 5G conference. 

When closed-ranks thinking like this is the policy, mistakes will be allowed to prevail. To their credit, the RSPG and BEREC have made steps towards increased transparency, but these are exceptions that prove the rule.

Behind the scenes people – including vendors and policymakers – are more willing to be sceptical about 5G but there has at least been for some time now a general idea of what it would look like: enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine type communications and ultra low latency. 

And if mentions of 5G are often followed up a qualifying “whatever that is”, any mention of low latency is likely to be suffixed by a reference to “connected cars”.

But research by LStelcom undertaken for the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission’s call for evidence on 5G puts the cost of connecting all of the UK’s main roads in the billions. 

Analysis Mason carried out a similar study for the European Commission and came up with similar figures for France, Germany and the UK. And that is just for streaming entertainment a-la 4G, not for the vehicular chill-out spots being promised for the future. 

But whatever technology post Release 15 actually is, it can be called 5G. Marketers will have to be careful.