January 30, 2019 by Alan DiCicco

Will the Real 5G Please Stand Up?


Have you noticed that just about every mobile network operator is claiming to be ‘first’ to deploy a 5G network?

  • First 5G fixed wireless access!
  • First 5G enhanced mobile broadband network!
  • First nationwide 5G coverage!
  • First ‘real 5G’ network!
  • First 5G compliant network!

Then the device makers pile in with statements like ‘first low-band 5G phone to be released in 2H19.’ Yikes! How can the operators have rolled out 5G networks when the phone makers are saying they won’t have 5G smartphones available until 2H19? It’s all a bit confusing, particularly if you are a typical mobile subscriber for whom the 5G clarifying fine print means little.

The cause of the communication problem is technical, semantic, and commercial.

  • Technically, 5G is a standard written to define a wireless network that can deliver multiple applications, not all of which will mutually coexist. Complicating our lives, the 5G standard is still incomplete in places and inherently full of implementation options, leaving room for creative license in claiming 5G ‘firsts’.
  • Semantically, the 5G network can be interpreted broadly to mean the entire wireless subscriber experience provided by the mobile operator, or more narrowly as a slice of spectrum used for a specific 5G network (e.g. the 600 MHz 5G network). A specific slice of spectrum has limits imposed by physics, that the more expansive concept of 5G does not.
  • Commercially, 5G is seen as a differentiator for the mobile operators and an opportunity to grow their addressable market. The wireless device and network equipment vendors see it as a much-needed boon to capital spending. Everyone wants a piece of the 5G revenue pie.

Mobile broadband consumption levels are testing the bounds of existing 4G LTE networks and it’s clear that high capacity 5G networks will be required to keep pace with overall demand. There may be many 5G options, but its universally accepted that mobile operators will continue to need more spectrum, denser radio networks, and more fiber transport.

Helping to sort it all out, my colleague Hal Roberts and I recently conducted a webinar - Taking a Closer Look at 5G – that I invite you to watch at your convenience. Hal and I discussed 5G services and networks (not the same thing), wireless technology, and network transport implications. We would love your questions and feedback.