5G: Separating Fact from Fiction

December 30, 2015
By Tom Keathley

5G remains one of the most buzzed about topics in the wireless world.  We’re an industry focused on the next big technological development, so it’s no surprise.  However, it’s crucial to ground ourselves in a few truths from the get-go before we declare this the “Age of 5G.”

Let’s start with understanding the requirements.  Some have been quick to claim plans to deploy 5G ahead of standards.  However, those claims have been quite vague.  They’re not clear about the actual “5G” technology and spectrum they’ll use.  The requirements for 5G have not yet been defined, so it’s understandable.  Even the most optimistic believe 5G standards completion is still years away.

When it comes down to it, claims of a 5G deployment in 2016 are little more than marketing ploys.  They’re hyping up a technology that won’t be available or deployed widely until 2020 and beyond.  With that said, let’s delve into some of the 5G truths.

Speed: Until 5G, speed was the driver and the defining criteria among the Gs.  Speed will be important for 5G as well, but the true 5G promise is much more.  5G will be a network that makes a connected world and society possible.  It will enable all technology aspects–from the massive Internet of Things (IoT) to 10+ Gbps speeds on your mobile device.  1 Gbps speed is nice… But the truth is (despite some announcements you may have seen) that speed was really part of the 4G definition, is obtainable with today’s evolved LTE standards and doesn’t require a move to 5G.  Simply put, true 5G speeds will go far beyond 1 Gbps.

Standards: 5G requirements and the creation of the 5G standards are just beginning.  While we’re targeting the first phase of 5G standards for 2018, we don’t expect the complete 5G standard until late 2019.  Deploying ahead of the standard doesn’t happen often.  The industry doesn’t have the blueprint it needs to create the network infrastructure and devices we can all use. 

Beyond Speed: As mentioned, 5G is about so much more than speed.  It brings great opportunity in the IoT, including smart grids, connected cars, homes and cities, connected health and more.  I recommend this CNN Money article; it sums up the possibilities quite well.

If 5G is still years away, what should we make of all the hype?  The upside is the industry is looking forward. Technology is evolving and we’re working to make sure our networks continue to deliver what you need.  That’s also our focus at AT&T.  Our labs are already trialing new wireless and antenna technologies and unlicensed spectrum capabilities.  And we’re leading the way in Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networks (SDN) which will be foundational to 5G.  The early trials of these new technologies will help shape the 5G requirements and, ultimately, the standards.  

A marketing race to 5G may be unavoidable, but there’s greater value in encouraging industry consensus around the 5G standards.  That effort will pave the way for truly revolutionary breakthroughs in the years to come. 

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