Most technology development seems to be generated by one of two impulses. Sometimes – like every vacuum cleaner innovation in the history of the world – it’s developed in response to a need. And sometimes – like SMS text messaging – it’s a new use for a technology that was wholly unexpected.
5G is different. Perhaps a good analogy is with the World Wide Web. As with the internet, the network itself is only half the story: the true value of the new generation will come from the applications that are developed for it…the most exciting of which have probably not yet been dreamt up, even by the most science-fiction inclined commentators.
So where are we now? Well, so far, all we’ve seen in commercial launches is the ‘non-standalone’ 5G. That is, 5G New Radio carriers are added to a 4G data call to add bandwidth and capacity, with the 4G and 5G carriers aggregated for up and downlink to make full use of the new 5G spectrum. That’s like putting racing tires on a family car. There is some improvement, for sure, but to see a big transformation, a lot more needs to change.
Knowing this doesn’t stop us having a slight feeling of anti-climax when we look at the first experience of commercial 5G contracts (launched in South Korea in April). This was a truly heroic effort on behalf of the three big Korean operators. Nevertheless, it only scratched the surface of what’s possible, because delivering on the promise of 5G will require a whole new architecture to intelligently connect billions of people, devices, machines and sensors. That takes time and it takes the efforts of the whole eco-system.
Before we feel too despondent that we can’t run before we can walk, we might think about how earlier mobile deployments developed. 2G, for example, brought much higher voice quality…after an extended period of network deployment.
The limited data services brought by GPRS enabled an unexpected market for SMS, but it took until 2008, and the introduction of HSPA, before 3G was able to deliver on its data bandwidth capacities…and until there were the devices to take advantage of this. And anyone who tried to watch high definition video on early LTE networks in 2011 was sorely disappointed, while now, of course, LTE provides superb everyday capacity for smartphones and tablets, and will do for many years to come.
Close but not quite there…
So that’s the current picture. We’re in the odd position of knowing 5G will bring extraordinary capabilities, without knowing exactly what those will be used for. We feel as if we’re nearly there – in some cases, we really are – but still, we’re some way from maturity. We’re impatient, and yet we’re moving at what is really an incredible speed of development. We are at the equivalent of where 3G was in 2003, or 4G in 2011, but we’re still determined to go faster and further than ever before.
We celebrate and applaud the first-mover operators in 5G. Their pioneering efforts will help the whole industry because they are providing the white-hot real-life conditions where the new generation will be forged. Nokia is proud to be working with all our 5G customers – existing and future – because this is where we excel: developing end-to-end solutions, across all technologies; creating open platforms for broad partner ecosystems; delivering the highest possible performance in the real world where our customers benefit; and helping shape and steer our new generation towards maturity.