Reliability, not principally speed, will drive 5G

Tech bosses spilled some beans at the recent CES show: 5G isn’t just about high speeds and capacity

Reliability, not principally speed, will drive 5G
Stephen Lawson

Brand-new research from a consultant and a trade body released last week estimates the deployment of 5G networks could create up to 3 million jobs. Accenture, along with CTIA, also predict the new radio networking technology will add $500 billion to the American GDP.

That's good news. However, questions about 5G remain. And they’re unrelated to the actual physics of the technology—which doesn’t really exist yet. The questions include an important matter: What’s going to drive these kinds of high-flown claims, and why is 5G being trumpeted as special? Is it really such a quantum leap over existing networks?

Starting with the last query, the answer is simple and is, in fact, a yes—at least in a rhetorical sense. That’s because SK Telecom, Korea’s largest mobile network provider is going to use the term “quantum” in its marketing tag lines, according to Alex Choi, the company's CTO and one of the speakers at a please-spill-the-beans session hosted by telco equipment maker Ericsson at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month.

That tasty fact—and a separate, surprising giveaway—was parlayed by the heavyweight bosses there.

5G will provide network reliability

Reliability is what is required these days in a mobile network, said Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson. That’s why there’s the market for 5G, he says. It’s going to finally be the network that provides the dependability.

“4G was all about smartphones,” and 5G “is the network for all the things,” he said, bringing, for the first time ever, complete and instant-delivered reliability.

Speed, capacity, no-latency delivery is clearly important, but not actually the number one driver.

The most important thing is “guaranteed service,” said fellow panelist Dr. Fathi El-Dwaik, vice president of information and communication electronics at BMW, when asked by moderator Ina Fried, an editor at ReCode, what 5G was all about.

In other words, both say 5G isn’t just a low-power sensor, high-bandwidth, upgraded speed and capacity data pipe. It’s an upgrade in terms of reliability, and that’s what’s most important. 5G’s proposition is one of extreme reliability foremost, above everything, these experts said.

A guaranteed air time and data rate is what BMW wants from 5G, El-Dwaik explained. The reason is principally for safety. One cannot have self-driving cars that don’t transmit data properly.

Cars are an important market for 5G. Smart cities operating 5G-powered vehicle traffic systems, along with 5G management of electrical grids (Accenture and CTIO lumps those markets together) “could bring in $160 billion in savings while reducing commute times and improving public safety,” according to a report from Accenture and CTIO.

Hollywood needs 5G for movie streaming

“Reliability is still not at the point we would want it to be,” said Hanno Basse, CTO of media company 20th Century Fox, at the panel of the current “mobile space.” In his case, he was talking about mobile video—specifically, a niggling problem that Hollywood has in that they can’t bill for movie streaming if the service is iffy.

That’s why Basse wants 5G. He wants to be able to "pre-seed" the network with movie content. But he needs reliability to do that. He used an example of placing content on consumer devices. It can’t not be there when the consumer chooses to look at it.

Uplink experience will also be vastly improved with 5G, Choi said. That plays into consumers’ right-now thwarted desire to create live own-media content. High-end quality is something virtually impossible for a consumer to achieve right now on mobile networks. Professional broadcasters will benefit from it, too, he said.

“People on their daily commute will have time to watch video,” Basse said of the industry-upending future scenarios where cars are autonomous.

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Watching video needs to be seamless, too. People need to be able to pause the media and pick it up again on a TV, say, when they get to their destination. The data pipe needs to be “ubiquitous” to handle that, he said.

20th Century Fox is working with Ericsson to figure out that automotive-to-home media delivery solution, Basse disclosed.

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