Why 5G is a slow-burning enterprise saga – and Verizon’s criticism of 5G marketing doesn’t go far enough
“The potential for 5G is awesome,” Verizon chief tech officer Kyle Malady wrote in an open letter this week, in protest at the early marketing of rather middle-of-the-road ‘5G’ services being pushed by the telecoms industry at large.
“The potential to over-hype and under-deliver is a temptation the industry must resists,” said Malady of the market’s, ahem, malaise, which grows feverish periodically, every time shiny new kit is rolled out.
His point was that, for the main part, there is no new kit, yet. Malady wants the industry to reserve the terms ‘5G’ for when new device hardware connects via a new radio (NR) technology, to deliver new capabilities.
Technically, this seems right. Much of the so-called 5G now being rolled out by the likes of AT&T and Verizon – dubbed “fake 5G” by T-Mobile US chief John Legere – is based on proprietary kit, running on old LTE networks.
As yet, there is little in the way of even a non-standalone NR interface, and nothing of a standalone operation.
More appropriately, if the telecoms industry really is to get it right with new-generation radio gear for once, and under-sell and over-deliver on 5G, it would perhaps do well to hang on, and promote standalone 5G NR sometime next decade as the real deal – as an industry-shaking, change-making, earth-quaking new generation of mobile tech (paraphrasing the Boss on Broadway, and variously).
Fat chance, of course. But it affords us, here, to consider momentarily the transformational power that 5G promises, but will not deliver until operators, mob-handed, and at great cost and in slow process, set down a brand new core network.
Because ‘5G’, as a transformational technology, will not exist until then. Instead, it will only be a go-faster version of LTE, a generational upgrade only in terms of old language, translating as more data for the same old apps. Consumers will be watch more video on the go, and try out some mixed reality stuff.
But nothing really changes, actually. It is boring, really – certainly compared to the hype.
The full 5G system, as specified by the 3GPP standards body, sets out three service-types: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC). The first of these will be carried forward on LTE-based networks, whether enhanced 4G LTE networks, or non-standalone 5G variants.
We can see their impacts, already – respectively, as super-charged LTE connectivity for higher-speed, higher-definition smartphone applications, and as licensed versions of the low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks that prop up the IoT market as we know it. The eMBB and mMTC flavours of 5G crank up the volume, but play the same tune.
URLLC is different; URLLC will change the digital fabric of society. However, it requires a full 5G core to be able to deliver mission critical, latency-sensitive applications – most significantly, for industrial automation, intelligent transport systems, and remote healthcare.
It will come later; some commentators reckon its impact may not be felt until an even later 6G generation. In the meantime, the marketing of ‘game-changing’ new 5G technologies, from Verizon as well, will stir the market, and over-promise.