The Near Future

When it comes to 5G, don't fear it. It will make your phone faster. It will make the mobile network better. More data will fit in the same spectrum, and more spectrum is becoming available. By now, for newer phones, it won't make your phone hotter and run out of battery sooner.

Network engineering and deployment

The benefits of 5G will increase as mobile network operators (MNOs) and the network equipment makers refine their products and reduce the cost of the most advanced 5G network nodes.

A mostly unexplored area of 5G network engineering is the use of massively MIMO antenna systems to form and steer beams of radio energy to and from phones on the move. While the simplest uses of MIMO are simple to engineer, using MIMO to unlock the full potential of millimeter wave spectrum will require overcoming many challenges, among them:

  • Forming and steering many beams to many users are once

  • Integrating beam forming and beam steering into the process by which phones find and connect to antennas that would otherwise be out of range

  • Handing over users from one beam-steering cell to another.

None of these challenges requires technological breakthroughs, but all of them require a level of equipment capability and network engineering in deploying that equipment that is several steps beyond what was required for an LTE network.

No fear, no hype

If it is going to be mostly the same, why did the telecommunications industry decide to call the current generation mobile technology Long Term Evolution (LTE), so that no further name change were needed? After all, LTE radios have evolved without a name change. And who are "they," anyway?

They are the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)

Wait! "3rd Generation?" "3G?" As you may surmise, the 3GPP was a body created to define 3G technical specifications. Then came the next generation and, being a bunch of telecom nerds and not marketers, they figured on ending the name changes, referring to new technologies as Long Term Evolution.

In case you are not convinced about 3GPP being nerds not marketers, check out the cool logo:

Telephone network generations

Did you notice that, instead of "LTE" your phone now says "4G?" That's what happens when the marketers get hold of your network upgrade road map. Now that it is important to get people to use, and pay more, for new network capabilities branding the network as fundamentally new became important. Even the 3GPP made a cool logo for 5G.

Don't buy in to the hype. Guard your wallet from people claiming 5G is a strategic imperative. Be vigilant against network operators leveraging 5G to capture what are currently open and competitive elements of the internet infrastructure.

5G will be there, when and where it makes economic sense. So will WiFi 6, but that is another story.

If you have preserved this far, you may want to know more about what makes 5G radios complex and difficult to produce at low cost and in large numbers. Here are the basics.

Will there be a 6G?

It's getting ridiculous, isn't it? Much of 5G could have come under the heading of "long term evolution." The way you use your phone has not changed if the display now says you have 5G coverage. Identifying unique use cases for mobile technology generations has been a mug's game since 4G was created. And yet, there most likely will be a product called "6G."