A Few Thoughts About the Current 5G Hype Machine

As some of you know, I wrote about microwave and millimeter wave carriers back in the mid-’00s. Carriers that used largely the same network that will be used for 5G. I’ve followed new technology rollouts, wrote early reports about the competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) markets, and penned research about the expansion of cable television and its evolution into “triple-play” triple-threats. It is with the same level of interest that I’ve been following 5G, with a report about the industry being one of a few possible next-steps for me. So I thought I’d get some high-level thoughts out there. Those of you deeply involved in the industry will see this overview as incomplete, and I could add links to articles about some of the cool things 5G is already doing (and please feel free to share more detailed info and links in the comments, if you’d like – active participation in the comments section will only make this article more useful [with my advance apologies for any delay “approving” the comments, since that’s how I’ve set up this blog]), but I hope it will be a great introduction for those who haven’t yet thought about 5G from this angle before.

I simultaneously appreciate and roll my eyes at the 5G hype machine. It is the future. It is going to help us do great things. Mostly things we can’t do or haven’t thought of right now. Aside from robots and cars, most of the examples I hear are things that could already be done with 4G. Or are things we were already doing with microwave systems more than two decades ago just packaged as “5G” to make them seem new. Or are merely the same things we occasionally do but done faster. But nothing we do very often. Why do you think the most common example given for consumer 5G is that you can download a movie (or app) in 10 seconds rather than 2 minutes? Because that’s one of the few things we do for which 5G would provide a noticeable difference. And we don’t do it that often – certainly not often enough to warrant rolling out an entire global network.

Some of the industrial applications are more intriguing and more immediately useful. While the past wireless generations were driven largely by consumer needs, businesses demands may very well drive 5G. Perhaps spurred on by the consumer revenue generated by this buzz. So from that perspective, I’m tolerant of the consumer 5G hype. Early adopters will be excited. Others who buy 5G devices too early may be disappointed. Personally, I’ll likely be my usual late-tech-adopter self, following it closely but not spending my own paycheck on it unless and until it fills a need for me. I can imagine a 5G connection to my work device that would vastly improve my ability to work with large data files. Faster access to powerful processing will allow me to perform complex analysis not currently available from a PC. I can think of some great work-life uses for 5G. And I have faith that personal and business uses I haven’t even dreamed of yet will follow. But only when 5G coverage nears ubiquity, including the necessary indoor antennas enabling 5G inside buildings.

Here, by the way, is a good CNN article about 5G. Very hype-filled but a worthwhile read. The title says, “I tried 5G. It will change your life — if you can find it.” Yes, 5G is coming. And yes, it will change your life. Just probably not for a few years.