Chasing the 5G Mirage

Mirage

By: R. Scott Raynovich

When you are in the technology and communications industry for a long time, it's easy to get bitter and jaded. That's because we're being bombarded by hype 24X7. But 5G takes the cake. Never have I seen seen a technology movement hyped for so long, with such much confusion so much buildup, only to result in so little delivery

For years, 5G has been like a shimmering mirage in the desert. When we get there, will there be any water? And when will we get there?

5G Ain't Here Yet

For the record: It's still not here. You can't connect your smartphone or your car to a real 5G network. And you likely won't for at least a year -- probably more like two or three years. My guess is 5G is really used by the mainstream (i.e. when most people think about a 5G phone or device) in 2022, based on Apple's game-plan. The 5G news cycle is so amped up now that the mainstream press is writing about it every day. This cacophony will reach a crescendo toward the end of the month when the global communications industry gathers at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, where we'll be bombarded by colored lights and demos trumpeting the fantastic 5G arrival! Then we'll drink Rioja.

It should be interesting. Still, we don't know what 5G is -- even though a clear standard is being developed by the 3GPP. Now, the full standard isn't expected until 2020. And some controversy has developed in ares of patent and royalty collection, according to DigiTimes

Large service providers are making a meal of it. Recently AT&T made what I believe is a misguided decision to launch a "5G" service which as far as I can tell is just cellular WiFi -- not 5G delivered to a mobile device, which is technologically more complicated. They are promoting this in ads and causing confusion. 

Other carriers are crying foul but also dealing with their own marketing conundrums about how to define the launch of a true 5G service. Some of the carriers have point-to-point 5G using millimeter wave spectrum, which you can think of as the wireless fiber equivalent. This existential crisis permeates the industry, with pundits regularly dueling about "the meaning of 5G." Verizon expects to deliver some 5G phones in 2019, but is vague on details.
Does it really mean anything?

What Will 5G Change?

I have no doubt that 5G will change lots of things. And I think we will get there in the next couple years. Personally I can't wait to get a 5G tower near my home in rural Montana so I can flee terrible DSL service and tab into wireless gigabit broadband. I expect this some time before 2024.

But what else will happen? I think 5G will change the competitive landscape of communications infrastructure providers, as it forces the virtualization of edge infrastructure, benefitting those that are strong in virtualized cloud platforms. There are also indications that it could increase the power of geopolitics, as witnessed by the increased momentum to regulate 5G infrastructure and perhaps keep players like Huawei out off specific countries. 

What does it mean for business? Who will pay for it? How will it enable communications providers, traditional equipment vendors, consumers and business verticals make more money or become more efficient? I'll confess, I just don't know yet. These are the questions I would like to answer.

With all these questions to be answered, Futuriom is building firepower in this 5G research area. We'd like to answer the questions. In March, after we gather intel from MWC, we'll be publishing a new report, 5G, IoT, and Edge Compute Trends and Case Studies, which will focus on the business impact of 5G on the edge of the network.

As always, Futuriom wants to do a great job. So I've brought in an expert in the field, Gerry Christensen, to help. Gerry's going to research and write our upcoming 5G report as a contributing analyst for 5G, IoT, and Edge Compute. 

Please help us with this interesting project. If you have ideas, send them to analyst@futuriom.com. We'll also be taking a few more meetings in Barcelona, where we'll have our head down studying the impact of the 5G market in detail.