Next Generation of Wireless — 5G — Is All Hype

Many people have promised us that 5G will be here very soon. And it will be the best thing ever. To quote Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, 5G is “wireless fiber,” and to quote SK Telecom, thanks to 5G we will soon be able to “transfer holograms” because the upcoming standard is “100 times faster” than our current communications system 4G LTE. But if we were to quote Science, the distant future isn’t nearly as lofty as the one promised by executives. Backchannel explains: “5G” is a marketing term. There is no 5G standard — yet. The International Telecommunications Union plans to have standards ready by 2020. So for the moment “5G” refers to a handful of different kinds of technologies that are predicted, but not guaranteed, to emerge at some point in the next 3 to 7 years. (3GPP, a carrier consortium that will be contributing to the ITU process, said last year that until an actual standard exists, ‘”5G’ will remain a marketing & industry term that companies will use as they see fit.” At least they’re candid.) At the moment, advertising something as “5G” carries no greater significance than saying it’s “blazing fast” or “next generation” — nut because “5G” sounds technical, it’s good for sales. We are a long way away from actual deployment. […] Second, this “wireless fiber” will never happen unless we have… more fiber. Real fiber, in the form of fiber optic cables reaching businesses and homes. (This is the “last mile” problem; fiber already runs between cities.)
It’s just plain physics. In order to work, 99% of any “5G” wireless deployment will have to be fiber running very close to every home and business. The high-frequency spectrum the carriers are planning to use wobbles billions of times a second but travels incredibly short distances and gets interfered with easily. So it’s great at carrying loads of information — every wobble can be imprinted with data — but can’t go very far at all.


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