WAPA Committee member Paul Colmer takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the hype around 5G and the related Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
The hype is everywhere, it’s the answer to all world evils, it’s 5G. Is it real and what can we expect from our galactic adventure? The problem lies in the fact that the hype is there to herd the investors into the trillion-dollar global playing field but where there is hype you require a new vocabulary to fuel it. This inevitably leads to confusion. Read more about cutting through the confusion
Real, science fiction or fantasy?
As the carriers rush to lead the race into the future, nobody has mixed up the hype better than AT&T, whose clients recently noticed they were connected to 5G E on their android phones. It’s not 5G but merely the rebranding of LTE 4G and this has landed them in the federal court with Sprint Mobile. This is of course not the first time we have seen this deception as it happened with 3G networks branded as HSPA+ being punted as 4G. T-Mobile humorously tweeted that if 5G was so easy they are going warp speed and launching 9G. Strange that T-Mobile was, I think, the first to con us by saying that HSPA+ was 4G.
So what do we need in the engine room Scotty?
The dream of 5G and it being the foundation of the 4IR to which it has attached itself. Spectrum is everything and in South Africa about as elusive as life-sustaining atmospheres. The spectrum we need is in low 600-700 MHz, mid-band sub 6 GHz, the coveted 3.5 GHz and mm-wave band from 26- 86 GHz. However, it was said that under current ICASA pricing formulas a chunk of 26 GHz could cost around R75 million.
Rain Mobile has launched a 5G service on its own 3.6 GHz. It is envisaged that higher mm-wave spectrum be used in fixed line wireless applications while the lower sub 6 GHz may be more suited to mobile handsets and made possible by chipsets like the Qualcomm Snapdragon. The problem lies with the mm-wave distance and building penetration issues, which means that all these Sci-Fi networks will have to be built with many small cells mounted on the corners of buildings and street poles. Or maybe CSIR can design some ‘sky hooks’ to hang them on?
All these small cells will require fibre backbone and there will be a need to mount some of these cells inside buildings that cannot be penetrated from the outside; so we run fibre into a building and connect a small cell? I thought that PtP 5G was the solution to avoiding trenching fibre to the building but I’m a mere space cadet so still thinking about that one.
Superfast journeys into the unknown require standards
The standards are based on the 5G NR (near radio ) and with the ITU IMT-2020 talking about 20 Gbps peak download and 10 Gbps peak upload, I’m once again confused, as the spec of the Snapdragon chipset only support up to 5 Gbps.
The journey to Warp speed
So the big question is, how fast is it really? The QualComm Frankfurt simulation is the more basic network, based on 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum with an underlying gigabit-LTE network on 5 LTE spectrum bands. Browsing jumped from 56 Mbps for the median 4G user to more than 490 Mbps for the median 5G user, with roughly seven times faster response rates for browsing. Download speeds also improved dramatically, with over 90% of users seeing at least 100 Mbps download speeds on 5G, versus 8 Mbps on LTE.
Vodacom are live in Lesotho and are claiming peaks of around 700 mbps but they can do nothing in South Africa until access to 3.5 Ghz becomes available. The Rain Mobile 5G network on their own 3.6 GHz is also in the same ball park. One test reached a download speed of 747 Mbps, with an upload speed of 72.1 Mbps, and latency of 9 milliseconds. The photon torpedo speeds are going to remain elusive until the mm-wave bands come into play. Comsol has access to the largest tranche of contiguous 28 GHz in South Africa, making it the local front-runner for 5G services. The pilot network in Soweto demonstrated 1.75 Gbps download speeds.
Off to the space doctor in Sandton to board the Starship Enterprise
The day had arrived where the ICASA 5G forum was about to launch with passengers from government and industry experts. It was going to be my salvation, surely all my questions would be answered on this two-day galactic 5G adventure. Anticipation was in the air but sadly launch time was experiencing YaClick type latency so I took the time to ponder what was going on and who was there.
Surprisingly the Klingon and Romulan carriers had settled their differences and were communicating with one another. Maybe they found common ground and were discussing the non-compliance of the EUSSCA.
5G the foundation of 4IR
It was explained in detail how the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work. None of these things would be possible without 5G. Really? It was also said that 5G is the quantum physics within a Newtonian world. Futuristic space talk indeed. If the relationship of 5G with 4IR is so entwined I wondered why the 4IR conference was running in parallel at another venue? But fear not our own captain T Genders was on his way to investigate.
The steering committee
The complexity of 5G was going to require a steering committee and I was intrigued to find out what they would be doing. The presentation led to a conclusion that they would be doing one thing, steering! I should have seen that coming.
Global Mobile Suppliers Association
Elizabeth Migawalla gave a great presentation of the roadmap evolution from chipset to device and the importance of the standards required to achieve this. Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia, Intel and Huawei are all members and have a vested interest in this.
CSIR & Ericsson use cases
CSIR, having rejected my idea of scientific research into ‘skyhooks’ for 5G radios, got into the use cases with Ericsson. So what are the hyped-up ideas of how we going to use this?
- Virtual reality is a big thing. The biggest investor in the technology is Porn Hub who has 12 700 800 GB of data flowing through its network per day – more than the entire internet in 2002. Frankly I think that VR porn users would rather use fibre in the privacy of their homes than mobile 5G in public.
- Self-drive cars will require the low latency that 5G can provide but its more complicated than that. Only small pods of driving areas would be available. It was suggested that due to high accident and fatalities from taxis that self-drive could prevent this. Linking the 1IR to 4IR, the 1st Industrial Revolution was in the textile industries of north England where the weaving industry was automated by the Spinning Jenny. The job losses incurred by this revolution resulted in the factories being burnt down by angry rioters. The removal of a human workforce can have dire consequences.
- Wireless health and remote operations have already taken place on existing tech and the last time I was in a surgical ward the sign on the wall said ‘all mobile devices must be switched off ’.
- Wireless home entertainment works on LTE, the problem is the caps or FUPs. Will 5G be any different? With 8K media streaming and TV around the corner, you could hit a FUP watching your first few movies.
- Social networks are pumping on existing technology and I see no benefit here.
The NIMBY debate and Dr Spock ears
The ‘Not in my back yard’ has been with us since cell towers first started being erected and has resulted in carriers being forced to remove towers in certain locations under pressure from concerned residents. The debate on health issues from electromagnetic spectrum in cellular bands and reports have been issued from both sides of the fence, the real question here is how much exposure at what frequency and what power would be considered safe. We have just not had cell networks around long enough to report back on long-term exposure. The fear of cancer and growing Dr Spock ears remains a concern for many and hence the NIMBY movement. 5G requires cells as close as 200 m to each other so this tech is required to be in ‘Everybody’s back yard’. It’s here the deployment issues arise.
In underserviced areas where the above services are not available, 5G could deliver but the networks will never go there; 5G networks will in fact widen the digital divide.
So our journey continues and I feel the disappointment of not discovering any new planets; I feel lost and without direction and can see the same malady in those around me.
During the two days of talks and spectrum workshops I was surprised that in private conversations with those who presented papers, I was personally asked questions that they had answered and addressed in their own presentations. This led me to believe that the hype had got to them too and they had uncertainties in their own deliveries.
The 3rd generation project partnership
5G’s arrival may be imminent, but there are still standards issues, meaning its definition remains fluid. One of the organisations working to develop this standard is the 3rd generation project partnership (3GPP) and this is how the 5G NR came into being.3GPP is the mobile industry standards body that will submit a proposed specification to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which will release the final standard, also referred to as IMT-2020.
3GPP unites seven telecommunications standards development organizations and oversees all cellular telecommunications network technologies. Mobile operators and vendors are participating in the specification process by undergoing trials. In fact there have been 201 trials in 85 countries.
We all need to remember one thing: 5G will not be delivered to us as tech. It will be delivered to us as a packaged service from the carriers in the same way 3G and LTE were and it is that very thing that will define the end user experience. My journey comes to an end and I ask myself: is it all hype? Is it as in a recent article I read ‘All mouth and no trousers’? I certainly don’t feel I’ve been on the galactic adventure I was expecting as we return to space dock and I feel that the 5G stripped of the BS and hype is a tad off course and in space terms that could be a million miles away.
So beam me up Scotty I want to go home and see if my 2 mbps DSL line finished downloading a movie called ‘Lost in Space’.
Space cadet Paul Colmer