Innovation or Invention: The Vision for 5G

 

Think about the first time you had a phone. Chances are it was a simple flip phone modeled after the legendary Motorola Razr. Now think about how much you could do with that device. Sure you could call, text, and maybe even download a Jingle Bell ringtone for the holidays, but could you browse movies or stream music? Times have changed: the digital age has redefined how much is possible with the little device that fits inside the palm of your hand.

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To give some perspective, the modern era has progressed more than 40,000 times in speed since the first AT&T bell telephone running on 2.4 kbps.[1] With each advancement in radio infrastructure, the telecommunications industry has redefined the past. Improving speeds for consumers and businesses alike has kept the race to innovate alive, yet the industry has not seen change since 2009, when the concept of watching movies on a 4 inch screen was first introduced. Is it time to once again disturb the dynamic by introducing a new standard for networks, or should companies spend more time in research and development to innovate, not invent?

4G has been a successful technology. AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are all leaders in the industry. But being more than six years old, there is certainly more to the horizon. Referring to the figure below, the progress is unprecedented. In 2001, downloading a two hour movie would take a flight from New York to Sydney but by 2020, when 5G with 10 Gbps speeds is launched, it’ll take less than 4 seconds.[2] Wow. That’s fast. 5G is undoubtedly going to be a game-changer for an industry dominated by smart devices including cell-phones, electric vehicles, and consumer electronics – the question that remains is if the time is right to roll out this long-awaited boost in performance.

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“The Guardians of the Galaxy” is a fantastic movie with a Rotten Tomato rating of 91%; however, if it takes 26 hours to load, how much will you truly enjoy it? With 5G, this is no longer a concern. Under 3.6 seconds, you could be flying at 30,000 feet and watching Chris Pratt’s action stunts.

In a recent interview with CNET, Verizon announced its strategy for 5G technology in the upcoming 12 months.[3] What’s crazy to think about is how much this will change the industry. Going from downloading a movie in currently 8 minutes to then 3.7 seconds is innovative. The benefits will be incredible. Think about healthcare, finance, and even entertainment. Patients will be able to communicate with doctors immediately and Wall Street brokers will be able to trade shares quicker than ever. With a standard that is nearly 50 times as current day, business will undoubtedly boom into a new era, positively impacting all industries that surround it.

After Verizon’s big announcement, the industry was stirred up with excitement and competition. Verizon announced that it plans to have this technology implemented by 2017. With such, AT&T jumped the gun and gave a response that most would not expect. What did the largest telecom company respond with? The company’s chief, Glenn Lurie commented, “We’re not at a point to be making promises or commitments to customers as to what 5G is. We as an industry have been really good at overpromising and underdelivering when it comes to new technology.”[4] Is this something an innovative company such as AT&T should be focused on? Finding reasons not to push for a new trend in the digital age when clearly its competitor is all for the technology is not a great way to impress shareholders or even customers. Verizon responded to AT&T’s “wait and see” approach with “Innovation happens when you’re willing to look at things a little differently than others, and you’re willing to put in the hard work to make your vision a reality.”[4] Does Verizon want AT&T to give the company some friendly competition, or is the big red check confident enough that it truly can change the world in a matter of a couple years?

The industry date for adoption for this new technology is 2020; however, Verizon’s Alberto Canal truly believes that the company can beat that date. Working with hardware companies such as Cisco and Samsung, Verizon can be a leader in the industry. With 50 times the speed of current 4G speed, the new technology that Verizon is proposing is bound to redefine internet and mobile networks. Additionally, it would open more networks to accommodate for more Americans trying to access internet. Expanding the internet is not only limited to Verizon but also includes firms such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. So, what’s stopping AT&T from joining onboard? Take a look at the below video to see why AT&T might be justified in not rushing 5G to the market.

CTIA’s Tom Sawanobori has claimed that mobile traffic in the United States will increase by 600% in 2019. If this is the case, there needs to be infrastructure set in place to accommodate such a vast number of people. Where will most of these devices come from? The analyst believes that most of the these come from Smart devices (things like Google’s Next Thermostat or NETGEAR’s Arlo Video cameras). The whole concept is based on just predictions currently. So, in some regards AT&T is correct in not launching a service that has still yet to be accepted internationally or even approved by the correct agencies required for such deployment. Doing so might lead to unnecessary cost increases for a service that is not fully adopted.

Should this up and coming technology be rushed or continue to be developed? The question is tough because even if Verizon intends to innovate and implement a new technology, it will not be able to placed into consumer use until all companies, government, and respective agencies agree on such different changes in network infrastructure. So, planning and putting more time in research & development in this case may make more sense. It will be interesting to see who goes to the top with this: the innovator or the bystander. Either way, 5G is certainly the future, but only time will tell if the top two giants should innovate or invent.

 

  1. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2399984,00.asp
  2. http://www.cnet.com/news/how-5g-will-push-a-supercharged-network-to-your-phone-home-and-car/
  3. http://www.cnet.com/news/verizon-to-hold-worlds-first-crazy-fast-5g-wireless-field-tests-next-year/
  4. http://www.engadget.com/2015/09/14/att-5g-lurie/
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyhqGaiBT0Q

2 thoughts on “Innovation or Invention: The Vision for 5G

  1. When’s the last time you’ve seen a mobile phone hit 100 Mbps over a data connection? I can almost guarantee the answer is “never.”

    The “G” in 4G has been a meaningless marketing term for years — 4G is merely a standard that specifies protocols and upper limits of connection speeds. In fact, not a single company in the U.S. (or in many other countries, for that matter) has managed to meet the technical standards of 4G, but they still opt to market them as such.

    For example, when the 4G standard was first implemented, T-Mobile started marketing their 3G network as having “4G-like speeds.” Now, (without any substantial upgrades whatsoever) it’s marketed as a 4G network. In most areas, T-Mobile’s pseudo-4G network matches or exceeds the speeds of Verizon’s 4G-LTE network (which isn’t 4G either). In practice, the term “4G” holds no value.

    Our infrastructure in the United States can’t even support 4G, so I see no reason to expect things to change when the 5G standard is created. It’s no different than buying a Gigabit router when you can only access a 10Mbs downstream from your local ISP — sure, the router’s technical specifications allow for high speeds, but you’ll never see them.

    Your first source even addresses this, stating that the term is meaningless and when the International Telecommunications Union tried to issue requirements for calling a network 4G, carriers tried to reduce the standards. When the ITU refused, “they were ignored by carriers.” When it comes down to it, there is no legal consequence for marketing a network as “4G,” so the mobile carriers have jumped on the label to improve sales.

    One of your other sources states that carriers will have to install base stations every few miles to deliver 5G. The same article states that implementing “real 4G” would cost carriers $1.7 trillion through 2020, so I doubt the carriers will be willing to shell out money for 5G any time soon.

    I expect a repeat of the incident in the mid-1990s — when the U.S. paid ISPs $200 billion to provide broadband to all citizens, the ISPs redefined the term, reducing the standards of “broadband” to avoid paying for improvements altogether. Like these ISPs, the carriers are focused on profits, so as long as they can rebrand networks without paying for costly improvements, they will.

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