'5G' Wireless Doesn't Even Technically Exist Yet, But Everyone's Pretty Sure It's Going To Fix Everything

from the this-network-runs-on-nonsense dept

When it comes to wireless networks, no amount of hype is too little when it comes to trying to promote looming standards or the next-generation of wireless technology. You probably remember WiMax, which Intel hyped as the “the most important invention since the Internet itself.” The press gladly grabbed Intel’s claim willingly and ran with it, insisting repeatedly that the technology was going to change absolutely everything. As it turned out, WiMax wound up being a niche solution that barely made a dent before being made irrelevant by other standards, like HSPA+ and LTE.

You might also be familiar with the constant marketing distortions that herald the arrival of the latest “next-generation” (third generation=3G, fourth generation=4G) wireless standard, whether it’s the way Verizon initially pretended that their old network was 3G, or the way that all carriers currently pretend to offer the largest 4G network. Ultimately carriers “fixed” complaints about them being misleading by convincing the ITU that they should be allowed to call pretty much everything 4G, regardless of whether we’re talking about LTE or carrier pigeon.

Enter the fifth generation of wireless (5G), which hasn’t even been defined yet, but which people are already fairly sure is going to wash your dishes, cure cancer, and help John Travolta with his pronunciation problems. The generations generally come in ten year increments, and while 5G is just a vague outline currently, South Korea appears prepared to lead the charge, spending $1.5 billion to research next-generation 5G networks (whatever they wind up being) that they claim will provide speeds 1,000 times faster than what’s available today.

Despite the fact that 5G is barely an embryonic concept, and any real networks likely won’t even appear until at least 2020, it’s never too early to dive head-first into the shallows of the hype pool. Samsung, for example, has been insisting that pretty much anything they cook up in their their labs is 5G. Broadcom insists their new Wi-Fi gear is 5G, even if it has nothing to do with cellular networks. News outlets are happy to help with the confusion too, calling 4G technologies 5G — just because. The European Union, like everybody else, has absolutely no idea what 5G wireless is — but they’re pretty damn sure it’s going to help them fix youth unemployment and your case of the sniffles:

“Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, sees 5G as a potential cure for youth unemployment, which has reached 70 percent in some areas of the European Union. It’s also going to be key for e-health services and the automotive industry, she said at a news conference in Barcelona.”

Is there anything the next, entirely ambiguous incarnation of wireless technologies can’t do? The best part moving forward is, even if you’re not actually offering “5G” any time in the next decade, you can always just pretend you do. Put “5G researcher” on your next resume update even if you’re a janitorial custodian. Sell “5G” burgers! Insist your company’s network is the only network that’s 5G, and everybody else’s network actually runs on pudding! Go ahead! Nobody will fact check. Enjoy!

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Comments on “'5G' Wireless Doesn't Even Technically Exist Yet, But Everyone's Pretty Sure It's Going To Fix Everything”

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27 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Enter the fifth generation of wireless (5G), which hasn’t even been defined yet, but which people are already fairly sure is going to wash your dishes, cure cancer, and help John Travolta with his pronunciation problems.

I didn’t know people were giving wireless technologies names. But really, calling 5G “Jesus” isn’t somewhat blasphemous? Does it walk over water?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: xG is completely meaningless

Well, at least in my experience it maps very well to the technology generation. On a radio interface level, each increment is incompatible with the previous one.

1G was the old analog pre-GSM technologies. 2G is traditional GSM (TDMA-based). 3G is UMTS (CDMA-based). 4G is LTE and LTE-Advanced (OFDM-based). There is no 5G, until a new and faster technology incompatible with LTE appears.

I think we won’t have a 5G for a long time. As can be seen with WiFi, all new technologies seem to be OFDM-based, piling things like MIMO on top of it. Unlike the previous transitions (analog -> TDMA -> CDMA -> OFDM), changes within OFDM can be done without compatibility breaks, so it’ll still be 4G.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: xG is completely meaningless

“it maps very well to the technology generation”

Let me clarify: it means nothing in terms of technical capabilities. Remember the 4G situation: 4G had technical specifications well-defined, and so it had meaning. However, no US “4G” providers actually adhered to those specifications and insisted on calling their service 4G anyway. When people complained, they pressured the ITU to adjust the defined specifications so that the US providers were suddenly compliant with “4G”.

That means that these “xG” specs are meaningless except as a marketing term.

Anonymous Coward says:

the telcos will expect it to fix those who dont have anything yet and those that do have some sort of data connection will be expected to upgrade at ridiculous prices for capped plans. the even more ridiculous thing is, loads of customers are still using 2G because 3G isn’t available and when those who can get that are almost forced to move on to 4G contracts, even though they cant get it!!

Ryan Heath (user link) says:

EU leads 5G investment - do your research

I think this is a pretty crappiky researched article.
First of all the EU has announced a ?3.5bn 5G partnership that dwarfs what the South Koreans are doing, and we were also the first in the race more than a year ago
Second: if the writer has bothered to read Kroes’ many speeches and press releases on the subject, it’s clear she wants new industry not magic cures in Europe. All reasonable, all do-able

Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile) says:

Re: EU leads 5G investment - do your research

Thank you for making Mr. Bode’s point.

“Although updated standards that define capabilities beyond those defined in the current 4G standards are under consideration, those new capabilities are still being grouped under the current ITU-T 4G standards.” (emphasis added)

They/you can call it “5G”, but the ITU hasn’t defined 5G yet. If you’ve actually gone and spent ?3.5bn on your own proprietary version of what you hope will be 5G in a few years, odds are you’re really just going to build a multi-billion Euro network that can’t talk to anything else. (That’s generously assuming your “5G” is really a new system and not just “new capabilities are still being grouped under the current ITU-T 4G standards,” in which case you’ll still need to shell more billions.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s a good dirty secret. Let Us say the ITU defines ‘5G’ as a system with 120 features, and publishes a standards document.

Each telco will follow that document only so far. In Europe, it’s usually done well after a time. They’ll do most or even all of the features eventually.

In the US, carriers will implement 20 of the features, and call it 5G. They have no intention of implementing the rest of the features. It’ll be different enough that they can accurately claim it is faster then 4G in advertising.

The US telcos will then only build out enough capacity to keep the complaints below the level of class action suits and Congressional investigation.

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