“The Emperors New Clothes”

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“Professor rules out 5G-plans” :)

I was recently interviewed by the Swedish Tech journal “Ny Teknik”  about my thoughts on that several operators are claiming that they will be launching commercial “5G” services in 2017 and 2018. Behind the tabloids “War has begun”-style headlines, my answer can be summarized by the title of the this post. Of course there will be trials and test with some of the new 5G tech components in the next few years to come, but deployment of infrastructure at a commercial scale of something that deserve the name 5G before 2020 – come on!  Even for the new radio interface (which per se provides moderate performance improvements), there isn’t even a standard set yet!

Been there, done that – same in 3G and 4G. There are always players that feel that they need to be first in the “newG” party and end up finding that the party hasn’t started yet. So theycook something up – mostly marketing but with little technical substance and call it “5G”.  The market actors are of course free to do what they want, but this type of behaviour has three significant downsides to the industry that eventually also hurts the “too-early movers”:

  • You instill expectations at the customers that you cannot meet (until maybe many years later) – create a lasting feeling of disappointment. “First impressions last”, unfortunately
  • You push vendors to throw some tech components (e.g. using a prototype og the new 5G radio interface) on the market in haste before they have been standardized.  Even if these are to be used for “niche application”  (e.g.  Verizons  planned Gbit/s fixed wireless broadband to homes products), they may “stick” and it becomes more difficult to correct deficiencies in the standard when there are already volume products on the market.
  • Other operators enter a wait-and-see mode.  “Oh, 5G is your around the corner, why should we buy LTE/4G ? Let’s wait and see”. This could bring the industry to a still-stand. Achieving much, much more capacity with LTE/4G and WiFi in a cost-efficient way is perfectly feasible, and the vast majority of the “connected society” and “Internet of Things” applications are best tackled by LTE and its low-power cousins (LTE-M and NB-LTE) which are about to hit the market now.

5G will come and provide significant improvements in several domains – and yes there need to be trials and demos to validate the new technology. Meanwhile in the commercial domain, lets hope that most market players keep their cool and focus on solving their customers need with the technology that keeps coming,  instead of being caugth up in some kind of wild race up the Everest. The top may be a cold and lonely place …

Jens Zander

About Jens Zander

Professor Jens Zander is professor in Radio Communication Systems at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. He has been among the few in Swedens Ny Teknik magazine's annual list of influential people in ICT that have been given the epithet “Mobile Guru”. He is one of the leading researchers in mobile communication and is the Scientific director of the industry/academia collaboration center Wireless@KTH. His research group focuses on three main areas – the efficient and scalable use of the radio frequency spectrum, economic aspects of mobile systems and application and energy efficiency in future wireless infrastructures.
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