The Long, Anticipated Wait for 5G Wireless

The 5G wireless is expected to deliver real benefits and expand what mobile networks can do, but you’ll have to be very patient. And even today’s hype could mar 5G’s arrival.

While hearing that the next-generation wireless networks could very well make your phone dramatically more powerful and transform everything from driving to entertainment, you’d think the 5G revolution is just around the corner, but it’s not.

The technology industry today has an incredible success rate creating new products and services that immensely transform our lives. Although, you’d be well advised to make peace with your current network service because the 5G revolution is years into the future.

The hype for 5G wireless reached a fever pitch at the Mobile World Congress tech show in Barcelona. Promises of 5G-powered drones can be heard, 5G toy cars racing around can be seen, demonstrations of 5G glory details like beamforming and millimeter-wave radio, and virtual-realitiy headsets to create virtual art with another person linked over 5G. Both AT&T and Verizon, the two larges US carriers, tried to outdo each other with 5G news.

The idea of this is to get everybody fawning at 5G’s prospects, which include a speed increase of 100 times more that would let one download full-length movies in seconds, or networks responsive enough to beam augmented-reality graphics onto your car windshield.

Patience is Key for Long-term Success

There are negatives to tech companies trying to build excitement and anticipation for next-generation technology. The first one being that customers might be disappointed to find they have to wait years to actually have access to this technology. The proper 5G standard is expected to be finished in 2018, with the first real networks arriving in 2020. The services will come only with widespread installation over the years to follow.

Ultimately, we can learn from history. In 2003, videoconferencing was the killer app for 3G. Now, video is all over the place, but it’s also 12 years later.

Another downside is that releasing 5G before it’s completely finished could undermine the technology’s usefulness and increase how much you will have to pay to get it. This is because all makers of chips, network equipment and phones will have to create technology for different, incompatible versions. Many small markets means products are more expensive which could be passed on to your monthly phone bill.

The final downside with building networks that use pre-standard versions of 5G is that your phone might not work up to 5G’s potential if you switch to a new carrier or roam on other networks while traveling.

The First Real-World Access to 5G Technology

The first 5G will most likely not even show up in a mobile phone. AT&T plans to use 5G technology this year in Austin, Texas to connect homes with high-speed wireless broadband links. Verizon is also working on the more technically difficult problem of 5G networks for devices that aren’t standing still. It plans to bring 5G to market in 2017, though it is not being specific about how.

Carrier KT has big ambitions to maintain its position as the earliest adopter of new network technology, by being the first to use 5G technology in mobile phones around 2018 at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

There is also a chance for Korean business partner Samsung to shine by supplying phones. “We’re going to be a part of that,” stated Woojune Kim, head of Samsung’s business unit for next-generation technology.

Nokia also plans to launch “prestandard 5G products” in 2017 for home broadband trials, but the full commercial launch is set for 2020, two years after the standard is final.

Intel is worried about early use of incompatible 5G technology, though. General manager of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group, Aicha Evans stated her concerns. Because the 5G industry alliances are sprouting like weeds, Evans stated that is optimistic those partnerships will nip problems in the bud.

AT&T’s chief executive of consumer mobility business, Glenn Lurie said it is aware of the risks of high expectations. “What we don’t want to do is overhype and underdeliver,” said Lurie.

Impatience Has Wiped Out Complacency

Not everyone is so cautious though. The network-gear maker, Ericsson thinks the 5G hype is good.

According to Chief Technology Officer Ulf Ewaldsson, it’s created a sense of urgency and wiped out complacency. He stated, “It’s the biggest opportunity in a long time to make networks relevant.”

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