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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

5G: ET phone home

As I tackle this month's column, the tail end of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) is in sight and, over the last five or so days, I have been privy to several headlines vying for our attention, all of which surround the overwhelming promise of 5G.

ET, phone home …

Yes, I have mentioned this in numerous columns across various periodicals: What about 4G? I ask this question regularly, since large parts of the UK and Europe are yet to receive a reliable and consistent 4G connection. However, if you're passing the moon at some point, you'll be pleased to learn that Vodafone Germany, along with Nokia, plan to launch a lunar network in 2019. In a privately-funded mission, moon vehicles, known as "rovers," will be connected to a central base station allowing high-quality video to be shared. I can only imagine that this news has frustrated those consumers who are lacking connectivity in remote areas of the country - after all, if a new 4G infrastructure can be launched on the moon, then why can't mobile network companies expand our infrastructure here on earth? It really is a cliché so please forgive me, but it gives a whole new meaning to "ET phone home" - there I've said it!

For me, the lack of national and European 4G coverage raises the question, "Are we being a little premature with 5G?" Surely, to deliver a ubiquitous 5G experience we must draw upon lessons learned from earlier cellular generations to include the good, the bad and the ugly! I have seen the alluring headlines promising how it's going to be better and faster - well that's all jolly, but there are those rural consumers that remain unreachable in terms of cellular connectivity. Surely these issues need to be addressed first as, when I travel around the UK, I want to experience one consistent and reliable connection irrespective of my location and, let's say, "earth-bound" limitations.

The perfect cellular storm

I'll use one personal example: My home is in a small village where cellular coverage isn't great. At best, I receive an unreliable "in-out" 2G service and, if I stand by the bathroom window tilting my head at precisely 30 degrees whilst holding my phone 28cm from my face, along with an accompanying moderate breeze of 7km/h, I may notch up one or two bars on my smartphone. Humph!

As such, to overcome my cellular shortcomings, I rely on a femtocell (or small cell), which interfaces with my broadband connection to provide me with good quality voice calls. Fortunately, cellular data isn't needed in my household, since my broadband provider offers an excellent service given my location - yes, I receive up to 80Mbit/s over copper where there's fiber to the cabinet! Well done, BT.

How realistic is 5G?

It seems that my so-called cellular "shortcoming" actually isn't my shortcoming! What was I thinking? And so, with this in mind, I decided to challenge my mobile operator (no names on this occasion) to argue my point, which is: Why should I pay for a femtocell when it's their responsibility to provide me with adequate cellular coverage, which I happen pay for on a monthly basis? In good faith, the network operator did provide me with a femtocell free of charge. As a result, both my wife and I now have 3G access across our home, where our smartphones connect to Wi-Fi for our data-centric services.

I have clearly digressed somewhat - so back to MWC and the inglorious 5G headlines. Despite my sentiment, I remain curious and want to explore further to ascertain what's what - you know, how realistic this 5G thing all is.

Preparing the groundwork

Scouting through various press releases and announcements, as well as the sensational headlines, there has been one consistent message that has been voiced during the conference by many telecom giants: that 5G will be available in 2019. To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced! What I witnessed at last year's conference was a lot of "lab-like" demonstrations of what 5G could achieve and this year isn't too dissimilar. It's great to see proof-of-concepts demonstrated in a lab-like environment but, realistically, once you introduce your technology into the real-world, it takes on a new lifeform altogether!

ADVA has also made a recent announcement that it will host a collaborative demonstration with BT at the MWC. ADVA is also garnering some momentum at such an event, as it demonstrates, along with BT, its end-to-end, multi-layer transport network slicing, with an objective of solidifying emerging 5G applications and showcasing their use of edge computing and network slicing techniques. What's more, several use cases are purported that may require ultra-reliable low-latency communications, which are primarily targeted toward the internet of things such as smart cities, autonomous vehicle control and so on.

Until next time …

The ultimate objective for both ADVA and BT in demonstrating such techniques is that, with the impending delivery of 5G in 2019, there is a need to ensure that new transport networking technology can satisfy cost, efficacy and flexibility expectations. No one saw or predicted the unprecedented demand for 3G and 4G data use, and with 5G making rather loud promises, ADVA and BT want to be prepared for a technology that can satisfy immediate and potentially future demands - yep, I know, we can't predict the future, but we can surely do our best to prepare for it!

I have seen many companies jostling to get to primary position and dominate the 5G cellular generation, but with ADVA and BT preparing the groundwork we can, at least, be assured of a foundation from which we can satisfy consumers, businesses and industries alike, as well as ET, who, undoubtedly, will at some point be looking to upgrade his monthly lunar plan.

So, this is where a "cautious" Dr. G signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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