a week in wireless


A Week in Wireless – 2020 is the new 2015

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Mrs. Informer got back from her travels this week, so The Informer has been forced to pretend that he’s a functional member of society again. So much so that he managed to peel himself off of the sofa, put on a tie and start thinking about things outside in the real-world once more.

Turns out that Mobile World Congress, the overlord of telecoms and the teat from which the industry suckles for the next 12 months, is less than one working day away. And The Informer could scarcely be more excited.

No doubt all of the big trends, devices and kit we’ll see in the next 12 months will be grandiosely unveiled or heavily alluded to in Barcelona next week. Presumably, if CES was anything to go by, there’ll be lots of talk about IoT and smart-things; as well as new smartphones, tablets and wearables from the usual suspects.

But no-one’s really interested in tangible products that will actually be headed our way in 2015. Oh no. Modern consumerism demands the next big thing as soon as the last big thing is no longer considered to be a “big thing” any more. The Informer considers himself to be a bit of a modern consumer, and so even he is unrealistically screaming out for 5G, despite only signing up to an LTE service six months ago, and still experiencing pretty sketchy coverage at the best of times.

5G is so ethereal at the moment that it makes Tolkein’s Elves look more like the charming participants found on an episode of Jeremy Kyle; and yet, the frenzy being whipped up around it appears to be all-consuming.

Even the NGMN, the Next Generation Mobile Network Alliance, is purposefully vague in its definition of 5G, and The Informer reckons that’s because nobody actually knows what on earth it is, they just know they don’t want to miss out. Here’s what the NGMN described 5G as:

“… an end-to-end system that includes all aspects of the network, with a design that achieves a high level of convergence and leverages today’s access mechanisms (and their evolution), including fixed, and also any new ones to be defined.”

Soooo, could one interpret that to mean “a really fast, really good network yet to be invented”?

In the past ten days or so, all of the big telco kit vendors have been positioning themselves around 5G – at least to make it look as though their collective fingers are on the pulse. They’ve all been making noise about MWC unveilings which will start readying operators for 5G, and there were even a few glorious buzzword amalgamations dropped in there for good measure too, which always humours The Informer.

Alcatel-Lucent posted a blog earlier this month which painted a picture of some of the conversations it’s been having with key clients about 5G. As one would imagine, it was pretty thin on tangibles, but it did paint a utopian picture of an always-connected society.

“Imagine a world where one could remain connected and monitored for one’s health and security at all times and all places – the freedom this would bring to those with chronic illness as well as peace of mind to the rest of us.”

Now, regular visitors to his column have probably ascertained that The Informer is a pretty paranoid character at the best of times; so he’s yet to be convinced that being constantly monitored is more utopian than it is dystopian. But before this becomes another 1984-inspired rant, we’ll move quickly on.

As mobile becomes more integral to the advancement of modern society, Mobile World Congress has become an industry in and of itself. It has its own delicate ecosystem of businesses that depend on the 70,000+ visitors who flock to Barcelona every spring. Hotels are booked up months in advance; flight prices hike up exorbitantly; the city’s tourism board gets fully behind it, as do caterers, contracted security staff and helpful sign-holding students. That’s not to mention the plethora of microcosms that exist around putting the show together. And that includes the veritable feast of news that The Informer’s colleagues at Telecoms.com feed off to make a living.

Consequently one assumes that the show, and its participants, comes under more and more pressure each year to deliver that mind-blowing, “oh my god!” announcement that will change how we live our lives. Conveniently, that leads us back on to 5G.

The Informer was having a chat with a lead researcher from one of the massive Chinese telcos a little while ago, and he was told how the clever folks at their wireless research labs were looking at 5G a few years ago, but considered it to be too far out there.

“We didn’t think we’d be speaking about it so soon,” they began, before saying 5G isn’t going to be any one specific technology, rather it will be a 5G “era” full of multiple enabling technologies.

Some of the 5G talk ahead of MWC has been about emerging radio access technology, new optical tech and means of maximising spectrum efficiency (a la Samsung & SK’s “3D Beamforming” project). Other talk has been about converging 5G and LTE for switching between the two, dedicating resources for IoT traffic, using SDN, NFV, Big Data and loads more.

There’s still so much work to be done before 5G can be considered a feasible technology, but our cultural need for instant gratification is causing a bit of a frenzy in the telecoms industry. Even Apple has joined the NGMN’s 5G research project, so as not to miss out on the trend.

No-one The Informer has spoken to reckons 5G is going to be around in the next five years, so he’s going to mark the 1st January 2020 in his diary, and anxiously stare at the calendar, counting down the days until the next big thing arrives.

Only 5 more Mobile World Congresses, and 1768 days to go.

Take care,

The Informer.


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