from the hype-and-bluster dept
Fifth-generation wireless (5G) was supposed to change the world. According to carriers, not only was it supposed to bring about the “fourth industrial revolution,” it was supposed to revolutionize everything from smart cities to cancer treatment. Simultaneously, conspiracy theorists and internet imbeciles declared that 5G was responsible for everything from COVID-19 to your migraines.
Unfortunately for both sets of folks, data continues to indicate that 5G is nowhere near that interesting.
A number of recent studies have already shown that U.S. 5G is notably slower than most overseas deployments (thanks in part to government’s failure to make more mid-band spectrum available for public use). Several other studies have shown that initial deployments in many cases are actually slower than existing 4G networks. That’s before you get to the fact that U.S. consumers already pay more for wireless than a long list of developed nations thanks to sector consolidation.
While 5G is important, and will improve over time, it’s pretty clear that the technology is more of a modest evolution than a revolution, and 5G hype overkill (largely driven by a desperate desire to rekindle lagging smartphone sales) is a far cry from reality.
That’s not stopping us from already hyping 6G, though. Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark says that 6G will hit the market sometime around 2030. And, as we saw with 5G, 6G is already being heralded as near-magical and transformative by the folks looking to sell phones and network hardware:
“Right now, we’re all building 5G networks, as we know, but by the time quantum computing is maturing for commercial applications, we’re going to be talking about 6G,” Lundmark said. “By then, , definitely the smartphone as we know it today will not anymore be the most common interface.”
According to Lundmark, the “physical world and the digital world will grow together.” The eventual result could involve a user going into a VR world, flipping a switch or turning a dial, and changing something in the real, physical world.
An industrial metaverse “could include models similar to comprehensive, detailed digital twins of objects that exist in reality,” according to trade magazine Industry Week.
So again, like 5G, a faster, more resilient wireless network isn’t good enough because it’s just not sexy enough. As a result, executives in the telecom space like to reach into a hat full of random buzzwords in a bid to make wireless network evolution sound almost like a miracle. In this case, that includes random references to quantum computing, an industrial metaverse, or a complete re-imagining of reality itself.
To be clear, AR, VR, and other technologies will evolve regardless of 5G and 6G, not because of it. Most of these technologies already work over gigabit WiFi. And while faster, more resilient wireless connections will certainly be of benefit, they’re not driving the innovation in and of itself. And the claim that the smartphone will be effectively dead by 2030 is just…silly.
Yeah, somebody will develop an amazing VR and AR experience (maybe it’s Apple, maybe it’s somebody nobody has heard of). Maybe they’ll even fix the simulation sickness problem and see widespread adoption. But 5G and 6G will supplement those efforts, not forge them, and the idea that a traditional smartphone will just cease to exist six or so years from now is just kind of silly.
You would think that after 5G landed with a big thud in the United States, wireless carriers and telecom executives would be wary of associating the standards’ branding with empty hype and bluster. But given we’re not keen on learning much from experience or history, the cycle of unrealistic hype and unfulfilled promises appears set to repeat itself all over again.