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Do we really know what 5G technology means for consumers?

Back in October of 2010, the ITU declared that LTE technology wasn't technically "4G," and that no major wireless carrier was technically deploying 4G networks. According to the ITU, only technology like LTE-Advanced, capable of speeds over 100 Mbps, could be considered 4G. Carriers ignored the declaration with T-Mobile arguing their HSPA+ build was the "largest 4G network," and Sprint & Verizon also made "4G" part of marketing for their respective LTE networks (technically, LTE and Mobile WiMax).
June 3, 2014

Over the last few weeks, a number of articles have been written by a variety of sites discussing 5G wireless technology and what it will mean for the general public upon release. If there is one common theme written about 5G technology, it is about how little we know at the moment about what it will mean for consumers in the future.

What is 5G?

Nobody knows because there has not been any standards formalized. But, some are guessing that 5G networks could be ready for public consumption around 2020-2021. Right now, there are no 5G phones and devices to use the new technology. No one knows for sure what features a 5G phone or device will have. In addition, there are so many variables at play that will have to be decided before 5G is used. Such as, companies like Netflix will have to decide whether they want to make their data available at 5G speeds.

Once implemented worldwide, mobile industry experts say the network will have space for over 7 trillion connected devices in the coming decade. The 2G network focused on voice, 3G on data, and 4G on video; the new 5G network will be all about connections.

What can we learn from 4G?

Back in October of 2010, the ITU declared that LTE technology wasn’t technically 4G, and that no major wireless carrier was technically deploying 4G networksAccording to the ITU, only technology like LTE-Advanced, capable of speeds over 100 Mbps, could be considered 4G. Carriers ignored the declaration with T-Mobile arguing their HSPA+ build was the “largest 4G network,” and Sprint & Verizon also made 4G part of marketing for their respective LTE networks (technically, LTE and Mobile WiMax).

The ITU then decided to expand the definition to include the current generations of those technologies: WiMAX 802.16e and LTE. From a release:

Following a detailed evaluation against stringent technical and operational criteria, ITU has determined that “LTE-Advanced” and “WirelessMAN-Advanced” should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced. As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as “4G”, although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed.

So, what the ITU did was basically allow carriers to technically call anything they do as 4G as long as it offers a “substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities” over existing 3G networks. AT&T has been particularly egregious on that front, marketing devices as 4G even if they couldn’t upload at 3G speeds. It has worked as a report by Morspace Consulting took a look at overall consumer impressions of 4G and found that 48% of consumers could not identify the main benefits of 4G networks.

What are companies doing to prepare for 5G?


Because the definition of 4G continues to be whatever the carriers would like it to be, it is hard to nail down what exactly the definition of 5G will be even when wireless operators are pushing it out towards the public.

But that’s certainly not going to prevent them from hyping the deployment of it without giving details as to the specifics of the speeds. South Korea is expected to be the first country with 5G as they have spent close to $1.5 billion to have their so-called 5G network to be deployed by 2020.

Recently, a research fellow at the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre told the Mobile Operators trade conference that 5G networks must give users the impression that there are no limits on capacity. The 5GIC is part of the University’s Centre for Communications Systems Research, and is currently working to define what 5G technology will be, and associated standards. It is funded through a mix of government and industry cash, counting companies including Huawei, Samsung, Telefónica, and Vodafone among its backers.

5G Cloud Coordination

But as Karl Bode notes, people in the United States should not expect to see any sort of 5G technology until at least the 2018 or 2020 Olympics, where the technologies are expected to be shown off as cutting edge. Meanwhile European leaders aren’t sure what 5G is so expecting the United States to define 5G technology seems highly unlikely.

Last year, Samsung announced that they had discovered the “world’s first 5G mmWave mobile technology.” The new technology is capable of transmiting data in the millimeter-wave band at a frequency of 28 GHz at a speed of up to 1.056 Gbps to a distance of up to 2 kilometers. Except, Samsung doesn’t expect the technology to see commercial implementation anytime before 2020 for a number of reasons (battery power issues, lack of upstream information, etc…).


The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 plan, includes roughly $172 million for 5G research and development. However, even they are troubled by the fact that nobody can precisely state what 5G even means:

Sathya Atreyam, a research manager at the International Data Commission (IDC), says that it’s become a buzzword at this point. “There are many players right now who are claiming that they are investing a lot of dollars in 5G research, [but] they’re all investing in different areas of 5G … somebody’s focused on increasing data speeds, somebody’s focused on better coverage,” he says. – NetworkWorld

The IDC is also expecting a substantial amount of questionable 5G marketing:

“With 4G, we saw versions of 3G – HSPA+ – called 4G, and then we had to say LTE to mean true 4G,” he says. “I’m expecting to see a lot of silly marketing junk later in the decade, as the 5G stuff ramps up.” – NetworkWorld

5G Restrictions?

Recently, Peter Rysavy, the president of Rysavy Research, penned a piece discussing 5G with Fierce Wireless. Although not disclosed in his piece, a list of his clients on his website include: AT&T, AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Cricket Wireless, CTIA, CTIA Wireless Data University, Ericsson, Microsoft, Nokia, Norcom Networks, Novatel Wireless, Rogers Communications and WiMAX Forum.

So, it should not come as a surprise that he used the same talking points that were used when 4G came to the market and more than likely will be used by all major wireless providers when 5G goes active.

Talking Point 1: Act as if the wireless providers understand how much a customer will need each month as shown by AT&T ranking worst in customer service and Verizon charging the most of any wireless provider per month.

“An even better question is what will these networks need to look like to provide sufficient broadband capability for a majority of customers.” – Fierce Wireless

Talking Point 2: Tell customers that they don’t really need fast speeds. Can we please stop this? I have now seen CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable and Comcast at different times tell customers that even though they are begging for it, they really don’t think customers want or need that faster service.

“Realistically, most American customers don’t need hundreds of gigabits per second of throughput for their broadband applications.” – Fierce Wireless

Talking Point 3: Use studies that you have funded or donated heavily to…like they do quite often (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3 and Example 4)

“Usage studies show that many people are satisfied with the 10 Mbps and higher that they get with their current LTE connections.” – Fierce Wireless

Talking Point 4: Continue bringing up broadband limits with data caps yet ignore the fact that you have stated on many occasions that previous comments about such caps were flat-out lies.

“At a continuous throughput of 10 Mbps, a user can consume a Gbyte of data in 15 minutes. This is why mobile broadband network operators are so focused on increasing their network capacity.” – Fierce Wireless

Talking Point 5: Bring up spectrum scare tactics which you flip-flop on depending on whether you want a merger approved or denied.

“The big question is where will more spectrum come from?” – Fierce Wireless

When it comes to wireless technology, carriers will say or do anything to promote upcoming standards or next-generation wireless technology. Moving forward, consumers should be aware of the wireless industry trying to dumb-down the idea of what 5G speeds entail. Then, when a company such as Broadcom insists their new Wi-Fi gear is 5G ready, customers can be intelligent enough to know that the product being offered has nothing to do with 5G.