2015 will be the year 5G gets real
The entire world gets what 5G is in an instant…it’s the next mobile revolution to come after 4G. Everyone has bought into the idea that something better must exist beyond 4G without having any idea if it is true and if so, what it is. A lot of ideas have been flying around to fill this vacuum. Many are incoherent and some beyond the fringe of commercial reality. 2015 will be the year when 5G gets real or gets lost.
A good place to begin a reality check is with the sceptics who claim that 5G is just a marketing wrapper to get everyone’s attention for their pet hobby horses. It is true, to a large extent, that 5G today is no more than a marketing wrapper. But it is a very necessary one arising from the very structure of the mobile industry. This becomes clear if we compare celluar network innovation with the impressive innovation that has occurred in the IT industry. The IT industry left behind the idea of “generations” of technology over 30 years ago. Remember the 5th Generation Computer project launched by MITI in Japan in 1982 that half-scared to death the computer industry in Europe? How has the IT industry managed the fast pace of disruptive technology innovation without fancy labels like 6G or 7G? In a word – monopolies. The IT industry has been allowed to have globally dominant players like IBM, Intel and Microsoft that simply impose their corporate will on the market to achieve a discontinuous technology advance on a global mass market scale.
In sharp contrast governments have used their control over the radio spectrum to sustain fierce competition between mobile operators. They in turn have forced a competitive choice of system suppliers. There is no single mobile operator or system supplier anywhere in the world that can force a revolutionary leap of mobile network technology on a global scale. Instead “revolution by consensus” has been the bedrock of mobile network innovation. The “next generation” is the trigger that gets all the otherwise fierce competitors around the same table. This carefully calibrated mix of cooperation and competition has proved a highly successful model with a 100% success rate over 4 generation of major network innovation. The 5G marketing wrapper matters. Is it the call to arms, the common cause that binds the competing factions of the industry together through the various inevitable arguments that will follow and it is likely to be the shared brand name to promote the technology that will be launched to create the new global “next generation” market.
There are huge forces tearing at the delicate threads of global cooperation across the mobile industry and many other distractions. 5G may never happen or it could turn into a hugely underwhelming disappointment. Success will be down to the willingness of around a dozen companies (the larger mobile network operators and main system vendors) to cooperate and commit to turning a rag bag of research ideas into a commercially viable project to be delivered by a common date. If ambitions get set too high the delivery date of 2020 will prove hopelessly unrealistic. If ambitions are set too low 5G will turn out to be a damp squib. This is the challenge of 2015…to turn 5G visions into a managed project that will deliver a step change improvement to national wireless infrastructures starting in 2020 (or thereabouts)…to make 5G real!