5G enters the race while 4G is still in the paddock

Author: Ricardo Tavares
Published: 2014-03-10

Several years ago, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN body for telecoms policy, released a definition of 4G which its 193 member states should have adhered to (http://www.itu.int). They didn&#39t. As a result, it is now being very careful not to say 5G.
A key part of the 4G specification was minimum upload and download speeds and these are only available with LTE-Advanced (LTE Release 10 and onwards), which has to date been launched in just three countries. LTE itself, mainly in the form of Releases 8 and 9, has been the most-rapidly adopted mobile technology of all time (263 launches in 97 countries), but it is not “true” 4G.
But governments have told voters what magnificent economic and social rewards 4G will bring. Mobile operators’ marketing departments, though, have become more careful about promising the world with little regard as to what can actually be delivered. At least some equipment and device vendors also learned the lesson from the 3G flop in the early 2000s, and are being more careful.
But there are some bright spots in the 4G scenario, notably South Korea – now the world leader in mobile communications. It was the first country to launch true 4G (LTE Advanced) and the service is performing well. Its government has just pledged $1.5bn for 5G research, and although nobody yet knows what 5G will be, or how it will improve on 4G, the Koreans will no doubt begin to answer some of the questions. So will other academic and industry researchers at already-launched projects in the US, UK, EU, China, and Japan. (See links below).
There are a few common recurring strands in this research, such as the need to identify new spectrum resources, and discover how to make the best technological use of them, with the focus on much higher-frequency bands than those now used for mobile communications. Much of it builds upon 4G research and techniques and so involves evolution rather than revolution.
Among the marvels we are promised from 5G are near-instantaneous downloads of HD movies, holographic communications (4G on steroids enabling 3D on steroids), and what is being called the tactile internet (perhaps bringing a whole new dimension to the huge online porn industry!).
The hype is building with governments again at the forefront. The tiny, troubled Kingdom of Bahrain has promised its citizens 5G by 2017, a year before the most optimistic researchers elsewhere are planning field trials.
This when a lot of the world does not yet have any mobile broadband, with 3G yet-to-be launched or just recently launched in Algeria, Pakistan, and Iraq. Even in the supposedly developed world, mobile broadband via 3G or “4G” is patchy in rural areas and unable to cope with demand in cities, leading to frustrating drop outs and buffering.
For the sake of the long-suffering and often-lied-to consumer, it might be best to let the researchers and engineers deliver a robust, reliable and fit-for-purpose mobile broadband service via 3G/4G before setting the marketing dogs loose on 5G.

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