“But some of us haven’t even got 4G yet!” – were the first words spoken by my wife when I mentioned this article topic to her.

Of course she’s right – the wife’s always right! But seriously, isn’t talking about 5G about as premature as getting excited that Tokyo are hosting the Olympic Games in 2020? And it’s not because it’s a secret; it’s simply because, as yet, no-one really knows what it is. No one except, it seems, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who captured the headlines with his spin-heavy, hashtag-laden speech during the opening of CeBIT in Germany last year. Dear old David got quite carried away with all the technical buzzwords as he gushed about the benefits of the forthcoming 5G, especially the fact that he would soon be able to download a movie in a single second! What? Wow, David, let’s find out more! Ask the experts perhaps? Not much luck there it seems, as Hoseein Mojin, the CTO at Nokia Solutions and Networks, one of the companies charged with creating the 5G future, recently declared “I have no idea what 5G is!”  

More Specifics, Less Hype Please

Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, seemed a little more confident when questioned on 5G recently, claiming that “there is a real driving force behind 5G research. 5G will eventually allow any mobile app and any mobile service to connect to anything at any time – from people and communities to physical things, processes, content, working knowledge, timely pertinent information and goods of all sorts in entirely flexible, reliable and secure ways”.  When questioned for specifics on what those ways were however Huawei immediately switched to vague mode, simply stating that we’ll all have to “wait and see”. 

On a more positive note, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has gone some way towards helping us know what to expect, with the announcement of its official 5G mission plan for the next five years. This can only be a good thing since, once the ITU lays out the rules for 5G, we’ll finally know what to expect in terms of speed from the next generation of high-speed mobile data. This will hopefully prevent the media-hungry extremists from marring 5G’s chance to hit the ground running through bizarre claims and inaccuracies – think back to the hype before Bluetooth’s launch and you’ll know what I mean! 

A Focus on the Here and Now

Although touted by some as being key in the full realisation of the Internet of Things (IoT), other industry players share the view that, whilst it’s positive to anticipate 5G, there needs to be a focus on current technology to drive forward IoT infrastructures and standards today. Orange SVP of network architecture and design, Alain Maloberti, discussed how the French telco plans on embracing IoT using 2G and 4G technology during his keynote address at the LTE World Summit this year. He stated “5G should be able to manage the massive number of connections for IoT, but we’re not going to wait until it arrives to do so. We’ll be rolling out IoT on 2G and 4G in the meantime.” And he added “To answer user needs, we cannot stand still for another four or five years waiting for 5G, we should be looking at 4G evolution, and a lot of our current customer requirements are comfortably managed by LTE at the moment.”  At last a focus on the here and now – how refreshing I hear you cry! 

But, with many cities still not fully covered by a total 4G experience, the here and now is far from positive in terms of connectivity. In my wife’s home town of Cambridge for example, the 4G service is incredibly patchy and unreliable, even though Cambridge is a major technology and university hub. What is it with this industry? It seems crazy that we continually look to the next big thing instead of concentrating on perfecting the technology already in place.  

The Rural Dilemma

But what I am complaining about?  I live in the city where 4G is achievable at least some of the time. What about those poor UK country dwellers who throw a party every time their phone signal rises to anything beyond GPRS? As a hamlet-dwelling friend of mine (with a very dry sense of humor) recently announced grimly “My phone just says "E" when it's not on Wi-Fi. Here, in our hamlet that's what we consider lucky! It means, if I'm really, really bored and hiding from the rain in the right cave, I can pass the time by seeing if I can load any pages from the internet before receiving a timeout error.” I had wanted to discuss the notion of 5G with him as it’s been suggested that, because the cost of putting up mobile data masts is far lower than installing fibre optic cables, operators may well decide that 5G is speedy enough to be used to reach rural areas as an alternative to fixed lines. However, seeing the way my friend was now scowling at his Samsung after furiously downing his pint of Guinness made me think better of it.  

So where are we with 5G? Well, perhaps that should be “Where aren’t we?” as there are still so many questions and, it seems, miles to go before we know the answers. In a world with an increasingly small attention span, are we all too ready to flip the page to the next story without finishing the one we’ve started? Sadly, in the case of technology, the answer is undoubtedly “Yes”. And so, in the case of 5G, on and on it goes! The fervor of excitement about the next big thing versus the reality of where we actually are and what actually works!  

Until Next Time …

Admittedly, I have been a little lax lately with my features, as I’m in the throes of completing my new book, “The Next Generation of Bluetooth Wireless Technology”, which has been neglected for quite a while. Nevertheless, I will pick up my stride and offer my usual shenanigans next month!

So, this is where a mischievous Dr. G signs off.