4G as a mobile telecommunications technology has been bandied around for over a decade or so and has appeared prematurely in several guises, predominately due to industry rumors, gossip and, alas, hype.
Progressive Steps to a New Generation
I do my best to no longer think in terms of 2G and 3G since in the UK we are building up the expectation of the 4G network. Incidentally, this is not backward compatible with earlier cellular generations, much to the dismay of the network operators, who are perhaps reluctant to dip their hands into their pockets and upgrade their equipment.
Nevertheless, various flavors of the 4G offering have already emerged over the past few years or so, as we head towards 5G – very much analogous to the generational sequence we witnessed with earlier cellular technologies. For example, with the progression to 3G we saw, 2.5G, 2.75G and so on; likewise, once 3G became widely available we then saw a similar sequence to 4G with 3.5G, 3.75G and 3.99G. We are again experiencing a similar sequence ramp up to 5G, with incremental steps being 4.5G, 4.5G Pro, 4.9G and even Pre-5G. Is it me or am I watching the same movie over and over again?
5G Isn’t Ready … But Let’s Talk 6G
At this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), Huawei Technologies launched their P10 and P10 Plus, which is claimed to be the first 4.5G-capable smartphone. Huawei delivers a four-way antennae to ensure that their new smartphone secures that all-important ‘5G-ready’ connection, but I do fear that yet another mix of tech-jargon spiel may confuse those consumers who, at best, currently receive an intermittent 4G service.In fact, I recall reading an article, which revealed the recent effort in realizing ‘6G’. Now, call me old-fashioned, but shouldn’t we be striving towards delivering 100% 4G coverage across countries like my native UK, or anywhere else for that matter? Anyway, I’m bemused as to what 6G could deliver, since the finer details of 5G are still being thrashed out. I’m horrified to learn that companies are developing against an unratified or unapproved specification or standard, perhaps, in the hope that they might be able to sway the greater cellular industry to do it their way!
A Wireless Broadband Experience
You see, when I started researching this whole 4G thing, namely Long-Term Evolution Advanced, it was touted to be the forerunner and the next step in cellular connectivity, since it vied for a true wireless broadband experience – akin to what you experience at home, with a view that it would achieve 1.5Gbit/s.
But alas, we have been privy to an industry that’s all too eager to deliver the next big thing. As such, we’ve experienced a lack of 4G availability and consistency across places like the UK, where such a service is often patchy, resulting in questionable data rates and an overall poor experience. I recall circa. 2010, in the US, network operators were claiming to be delivering 4G connectivity, but this was nothing more than a mashup of technologies in some seemingly desperate hope of wooing more customers into a technology whirlwind frenzy.
Delivering on Your Promises
More recently, my wife and I travelled out to Belgium and on my Microsoft Lumia 950XL I saw that “4G” was available, as we drove from Calais (I wasn’t the one driving, honest!). Intrigued, I Googled “4G+” and to my amazement it was indeed 4.5G! Delving deeper, I also learned that EE in the UK supports this sequential generation cellular technology too. Oh, and I should finally add that the experience of surfing the internet was quite zippy!
So, it seems Huawei is treading the right path by delivering a smartphone that’s essentially prepped for the future. Perhaps, it’s down to Huawei’s gusto and their eagerness to ensure that they achieve their ambitious goal of becoming the primary smartphone manufacturer in the world, beating Apple and Samsung. We have to be careful with what we promise; you see, the industry must “do what they say, say what they do” all in a timely manner, of course!
Wireless Technology in the Real World!
I do understand how network operators wish to minimize capital expenditure, but by deploying 4G and 5G technology it does require an upgrade to existing equipment. And, I suppose, operators are regularly plagued with environmental considerations, where they are simply unable to erect a mast to serve an area within the UK. The last thing we need is a bunch of hippies strapping themselves to a tree claiming that you’re ruining our environment as well as giving us cancer – yikes!
At MWC, I witnessed several stands or booths demonstrating a 5G “lab-esque” version of achieving 28Gbit/s, which might be impressive, but as a wireless technology fanatic, I know that once we take such technology out of the lab and place it into the real world, it changes and takes on a different life form altogether.
A Fiber-Like Wireless Broadband Experience
During the congress, I was also privy to numerous presentations that echoed several companies’ perspectives as to how 5G should manifest itself. One in particular, seemed to overcome the restriction of deploying masts to support such a 5G ecosystem across the UK or any other country so as not to tarnish the countryside, for example. In particular, I like the notion that extending such a topology could indeed be achieved by integrating “5G cells” into existing street lighting, street signage where such structures already exist; in turn, blending their presence into our accepted environment.
Nonetheless, one consistent message from all those involved in deploying 5G was the ability to deliver a fiber-like wireless experience. You see, I did wonder with the numerous demonstrations and the so-claimed 28Gbit/s whether that would be shared across a region or would a single user achieve that speed? I would dare say, it’s the former.
Until Next Time…
I’ll be honest, despite my moaning and groaning as to what should be done and how and when, 5G is coming. The industry needs it if for no other reason than to push the operators into upgrading their tiring equipment and perhaps to build greater revenue streams with such technology. I’m sure over the next few years, “5G” will take several guises and probably provide patchy coverage for some of us, but it will arrive in some form. Yes, there’s one thing we do know – it’s inevitable!
So, this is where an “I just goddamn give up” Dr. G signs off.