There’s No 5G Race

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “In my view, we’re in the lead with respect to 5G”. Over the last few months I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed in terms of how the US needs to win the 5G race.

This talk is just more hype and propaganda from the wireless industry that is trying to create a false crisis concerning 5G in order to convince politicians that we need to break our regulatory traditions and give the wireless carriers everything they want. After all, what politician wants to be blamed for the US losing the 5G race? This kind of propaganda works. I was just at an industry trade association show and heard three or four people say that the US needs to win the 5G race.

There is no 5G race; there is no 5G war; there is no 5G crisis. Anybody that repeats these phrases is wittingly or unwittingly pushing the lobbying agenda of the big wireless companies. Some clever marketer at one of the cellular carriers invented the imaginary 5G race as a great way to emphasize the importance of 5G.

Stop and think about it for a second. 5G is a telecom technology, not some kind of military secret that some countries are going to have, while others will be denied. 5G technology is being developed by a host of multinational vendors that are going to sell it to anybody who wants it. It’s not a race when everybody is allowed to win. If China, or Germany, or Finland makes a 5G breakthrough and implements some aspect of 5G first, within a year that same technology will be in the gear available to everybody.

What I really don’t get about this kind of hype and rhetoric is that 5G is basically a new platform for delivering bandwidth. If we are so fired up to not lose the 5G race, then why have we been so complacent about losing the fiber race? The US is far down on the list of countries in terms of our broadband infrastructure. We’ve not deployed fiber optics nearly as quickly as many other countries, and worse we still have millions of households with no broadband and many tens of millions of others with inadequate broadband. That’s the race we need to win because we are keeping whole communities out of the new economy, whch hurts us all.

I hope that my readers don’t think I’m against 5G because I’m for any technology that improves access to bandwidth. What I’m against is the industry hype that paints 5G as the technology that will save our country – because it will not. Today, more than 95% of the bandwidth we use is carried over wires, and 5G isn’t going to move that needle much. There are clearly some bandwidth needs that only wireless will solve, but households and businesses are going to continue to rely on wires to move big bandwidth.

When I ask wireless engineers about the future they almost all have painted the same picture. Over time we will migrate to a mixture of WiFi and millimeter wave spectrum indoors to move around big data. When virtual and augmented reality was first mentioned a few years ago, one of the big promises we heard was for telepresence, where we’ll be able to meet and talk with remote people as if they are sitting with us. That technology hasn’t moved forward because it requires huge broadband beyond what today’s WiFi routers can deliver. Indoor 5G using millimeter wave spectrum will finally unleash gigabit applications within the home.

The current hype for 5G has only one purpose. It’s a slick way for the wireless carriers to push the government to take the actions they want. 5G was raised as one of the reasons to kill net neutrality. It’s being touted as a reason to gut most of the rest of existing telecom legislation. 5G is being used as the reason to give away huge blocks of mid-range spectrum exclusively to the big wireless companies. It’s pretty amazing that the government would give so much away for a technology that will roll out slowly over the next decade.

Please think twice before you buy into the 5G hype. It takes about five minutes of thinking to poke a hole in every bit of 5G hype. There is no race for 5G deployment and the US, by definition, can’t be ahead or behind in the so-called race towards 5G. This is just another new broadband technology and the wireless carriers and other entrepreneurs will deploy 5G in the US when it makes economic sense. Instead of giving the wireless companies everything on their wish list, a better strategy by the FCC would be to make sure the country has enough fiber to make 5G work.

7 thoughts on “There’s No 5G Race

  1. I couldn’t agree more. My max paranoia view is that (a) this is a direct outcome of failing wireless business models (b) it mostly benefits gear manufacturers who’ve had business decimated by Cloud (c) there’s a land rush mentality to get action before FCC regime change, and (d) it’s being framed as a “national security” thing to set up for taxpayer bailout when, eventually, it’s clear that providers have crazily overspent relative to potential revenues and need to be too-big-and-critical-to-fail to avoid bankruptcy.

    5g and self-driving cars is a total fantasy, IoT doesn’t need mobile, “one bill” won’t be enough benefit to get people to drop cable, deployment gaps mean we’re stuck with 4g towers for the duration, “edge computing” is a marketing idea and nothing that’s going to displace any Cloud.

    This is a fiber network plus fixed plus mobile, and not really something that’s either viable at scale or crazily valuable. (Unless AR turns out to be an insane hit.)

      • We’ll bless you for saying that. I can’t tell you the number of journalists I tried to get interested in looking at something beyond the “rah-rah ain’t it all gonna be Jetsons” version of the story.

        Nothin… One told me “well they’re deploying so that’s that.” And not that I’m right about any individual bit, necessarily, but…the pieces just don’t add up.

        In the worst case scenario I’m *already* infuriated about net neutrality and the tax abuses of the telcos. If they go all WorldCom on us and hand taxpayers the bill I’m going to have to emigrate.

        Anyway, nice to feel less crazy, thanks.

  2. Well put and just like history has proven. It’ll be many of the same frequencies just re-licensed and reused.

    5G-is just a way of deploying the computing architecture. In a nut shell it’s a Software Defined ORAN (Open Radio Access Network).
    There are parts that “on paper” are really cool to focus on…hence all the marketing with super high bandwidth/data rates and super low latency etc etc. But the access layer will still be sub 1GHz (maybe 2GHz) for the most part. Last time I checked a mm wave (e.g. 30GHz) isn’t going to penetrate into a building let alone do NLOS to your device. Just sayin’ 😂 LOL

    • I like to think of it as “like a fiber network only with a totally crappy connection across the street.”

      Of course I’m ignoring the self driving car and watching high def videos on your phone aspects.

      Yes I am. Yes I am.

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