The hype continues unabated in the wireless industry’s march towards 5G connectivity. The industry press reports daily on the strides that are being made towards deploying this new, more efficient wireless technology, with carriers claiming that they will introduce services by the end of 2018, that they have launched widespread trials, etc. etc. At the same time, these same carriers lament the fact that they have to spend huge sums of money to deploy these technologies and that their revenue streams from their current customer base will not keep pace.
Schizophrenia seems to be the order of the day. But with all of the noise in the industry, there are some realities that we can count on in regards to the promises of 5G.
There is a very real need for 5G, with the continuing growth of data and video on wireless networks and the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) world. IoT is quite a broad term, and there will be plenty of applications that will not make anyone any money, may be nice to have instead of have to haves, etc. But there are others, perhaps like autonomous vehicles, that will move from the nice to have to have to have category. As that happens, the world of 5G will be required.
The Carrier Waiting Game
There is always a significant time lag between the hype in the trade press and the availability of truly commercial grade network equipment, so the expectation that commercial services in any kind of scale will be here by the end of 2018 is a bit of a fantasy.
The Consumer Waiting Game
Even if network equipment is fully available by the end of 2018, devices will always lag the network. The movement from analog to digital 2G was plagued by the lack of handsets, and that reality was also true in the evolution of 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G. There is no magic wand that is going to make that issue go away as 5G arrives. Network gear always has to be stabilized from a standards and practice viewpoint before consumer devices are finalized. From previous rounds of these evolutions, 18 months to 2 years are a pretty good guess.
What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
The use of different types of spectrum (think millimeter wave) in the network will have to grow, particularly in large cities, so the carriers are and will continue to scramble for access to this spectrum, as Verizon did by spending $3 Billion for Straight Path Communications. As in previous turns of wireless technology, spectrum will play an integral role.
Density is our Destiny
With the need to deploy millimeter wave technology will come the need for the densification of the wireless networks. That means many more cells (or microcells) will be required for a given area. And with that need comes the ongoing debate between the federal government, states and municipalities about who controls the zoning of all of this activity. Will the FCC’s new activity in this area bear some fruit in the short term?
Fiber Will Still Be Our Friend
And with densification will come the issue of site connectivity. How is it going to happen? In band signaling, fiber connectivity, new activity in the microwave and other bands? And how cost effective and timely will these solutions be?
Radio Begat TV Which Begat The Internet Which Begat Mobile
And finally back to the carriers’ lament about how do they afford all of this. The business of wireless and broadband is going to change. Only a portion of it will be paid for by network services charges. More and more of it will be paid for by advertising models of one form or another. Advertising revenues? Sounds like a TV network of the 50’s and 60’s, or the Google of today.
Wireless growth will continue, and opportunities abound. Picking the winners and losers will require significant focus and insight. The niches where a successful business can be built will occur around clever ways to define and solve problems.