Today we are hearing a lot of excitement and noise around 5G and the door it will open to the public and private sectors, many experts say this technology will revolutionize our lives, opening a world where we can benefit from increased bandwidth, massive machine to machine communication and extremely reliable and low latency service.
Every time I get bombarded by 5G latest developments I can’t shake the Déjà vu sensation from my Telecom years managing direct spend at the dawn of 4G deployment. Just the memory of the fanfare we got from some of the top Telecom Equipment Manufacturers makes me laugh in the inside.
Back in the beginning days of LTE, when network rollouts were in the horizon, we were told that LTE was going to revolutionize the future, that we would benefit from impressive speeds and over the top technology, and to be honest I believed it. If you looked at it, even the name was impressive, how could you beat Long Term Evolution, impossible not to fall for it.
As every sales pitch, road show, and factory visit took place, we were amazed as we learned what was coming; the access network for LTE had been revolutionized, intelligence was distributed across the network, the bulky RAN Controllers were gone forever, antennas and radio units had been consolidated, the promise a less cluttered network and energy consumption savings made us smile for months.
We constantly heard fancy network name changes such as Evolved Node B, leaving the classic base station and NodeB in the dust. The rise of the Evolved Packet Core was going to disintegrate the legacy CS (Voice) and PS (Data) cores, the door for VoLTE and all other exciting new services was there, we just had to open it. At this point it wasn’t unusual to see some telecom engineers rejoice and look towards the skies in praise, speaking in tongues while their eyes turned completely white from all the divinity they saw in LTE.
This festive atmosphere of massive projects, incentives, and investments was a brief reminder of the “Good–old Telecom days” that some telecom veterans out there might remember with melancholy.
Looking back I see it was mostly hype, we were a little naïve to think that this was a new beginning; yes, the technology is good, but as we deployed progressively it did not revolutionize things as much as we thought it would. Things like congestion, content demands (thank you social media) and other factors made performance acceptable but did not live up to the expectations. With the release of LTE Advanced things got a lot better, but soon realized that this technology was just another stepping stone in the search for that ground breaking technology.
This last year 5G has revived some of the same LTE expectations, many are hopefuls of a revolution, but can 5G truly revolutionize humanity this time?
Why not, 5G can enable full IoT and all the goodies that come with that. The mass deployment of services on top of 5G can help lower their acquisition costs, letting smaller and less profitable business jump on the IoT wagon; for example, just think of a small vineyard using sensors to save money on water consumption, fertilizers, and knowing the exact moment to harvest, the level of efficiency will create aggregate value that can definitely change the way things are done. In the personal front, think how it can radically change the life quality of the elderly if they had smart homes that enabled them to regain their independence by using health monitoring sensors that will detect any health issue that today might be the basis to render them to an elder community.
A lot of these ideas that we associate with science fiction can potentially come to life and today we see that they are slowly becoming a reality, things like autonomous cars, virtual surgeons, and multiple monitoring applications are being used today on a daily fashion and this is just the beginning.
There is definitely a lot of excitement around 5G, we can’t deny the technology will have an impact on our daily life and open the door for crazy innovations that will make our life amazing, but…
Before you start looking into the heavens in praise like those telecom engineers from the LTE days, let me ground your bubble so it doesn’t burst in dramatic fashion.
We have to look at the reality of 5G, it is an amazing technology, we can’t deny its potential, but like LTE this is something we are creating on the go and it is far from finished, we will continue to see 5.5G, 6G, 7G, and nG down the road, the rollout of this technology is progressive and usually never achieves the capacities from lab conditions. When we compare applications and the usage they have today with the capabilities of 5G we smile as we believe that there will be an abundance of bandwidth, but the same happened with LTE to a certain degree, the reality is that future applications will be more data demanding than today, making any jumps in data availability seem unimportant; to put this in other words, think of the Keynesian theory of consumption (I am sorry Milton), we will inherently adapt our data usage (spending) to our data availability (income).
This is a cycle that will be constant in our development of new and more efficient data transmission technologies, I find hard to think that there will be a technology explosion that will instantly revolutionize the world, for me this will be more of a technological evolution, similar to lava flow, good things will come gradually with time and patience.
My hope is that I am mistaken, but as I mentioned, I lived through this hype back when LTE promised to change everything, and to be completely honest, this is more of the same, but in the case that there is an incredible technological revolution, I will be one of the first to admit defeat and look to the skies in adulation, speaking in tongues, white eyes, and all that paraphernalia.