5G – Mostly Hype – For Now

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the next generation of cellular technology and while 5G is definitely cool, we need to make sure that we don’t get the cart before the horse.

#1 – Everyone has to buy a new phone.  Apple watchers think that Apple should release it’s first 5G phone before the end of 2020.  Other phones are being touted as 5G or possibly 5G evolution – which is different.  This means that even if 5G is available in your neighborhood, which it likely is not, it won’t do  you any good until you replace your phone.

#2 – Carriers need to upgrade each and every cell tower.  This means new electronics.  Given that there are hundreds of thousands of cell towers – or more – in the United States, that is a lot of money.  Likely, carriers might upgrade the network first in rich neighborhoods (because those people might buy new phones sooner) or neighborhoods with high traffic density.  Most of us won’t see upgrades for years.  I still connect to towers that only support 3G and 2G on a regular basis.

#3 – Network capacity needs to be upgraded.  It is wonderful if you can talk to the cell tower at 1 gigabit per second but that does no good if the connection from that cell tower to the rest of the network is only, say 50 megabits – there is no magic to get you faster speed.  And that needs to go all the way back to the Internet backbone.  In many cases, that is 5 to 10 network connections that all have to be upgraded.  If you have two cell towers that each want to talk at 1 gigabit per second and they connect to one consolidation  point, that needs to have a 2 gigabit connection and if two of those connect to a higher consolidation point, that needs to have a 4 gigabit connection.  Everybody shares the same pipe and it will only run as fast as the slowest connection.

#4 – MORE cell towers.  The nature of 5G is that the signal can only travel a short distance at that high speed.  This means more towers. And more “back haul” connections.  Should we put a tower in your back yard?  This is going to be a big problem.  Carriers want to reduce costs which means that land owners are going to be even less likely to want to put a tower in their back yard.  I have heard some stories that carriers are lobbying for laws to force land owners to put cell sites on their land for next to nothing.  That is not going to go over very well.

#5 – Oh, yeah, 5G doesn’t work inside.  Not in your house.  Not in your car.  Not in your office.  Unless you have a 5G mini cell site inside the building.  With enough bandwidth to back haul the traffic.  There are some carriers that are working on  using a different frequency that works better inside, but frequency (also called spectrum) is exceptionally scare.

#6 – Now you create all these really cool 5G applications that use all that bandwidth.  What about security.  After all, today, phone app security is horrible.  If you start building all of these bandwidth gobbling applications will security magically improve?  Not likely.

Other than that, there are no problems with 5G.

What we are likely to see is limited deployment of 5G over the next couple of years.  Select sites in select cities.  What we are also know is that the back haul bandwidth is going to be a problem.

Next we are going to have to get everyone to buy new phones.

And likely the 5G cell plans are going to cost more just like smartphone plans had/have a “surcharge”.

We need to develop all those cool new apps.

And finally, we need to solve the security problems.

As I said, other than that, there are no problems with 5G.


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