5G Coming to a Pocket Near You

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here with a news flash: Cellular 5G is coming!

[Sound effect of tires screeching] What does this new, profound breakthrough technology mean to us? How will it change our world?

OK, let’s talk about 5G for a moment because we all like new shiny stuff. Most people don’t know much about 5G so I will bring you up to speed.

5G doesn’t exist. To quote Wikipedia; “5G does not describe any particular specification in any official document published by any telecommunication standardization body…no international 5G development projects have officially been launched, and there is still a large extent of debate on what 5G is exactly about.

There are industry discussions about 5G, and we know this much: 5G will not be about increased speeds. It may be about increased battery life, or increased efficiency of the spectrum, or something.

As a telecommunications planner this means that we are entering a period here of relative stability. It’s likely to be 10+ years until we see anything new and different, like we saw for LTE. I can’t recall a period of such stability in cellular as what we are entering. In the past we had a rapid fire set of new technologies from CDMA with 1xRTT to TDMA to GSM with GPRS. Lots of new flavors of alphabet soup arrived regularly.

Does this mean our planning task is over? No!

I think it means we need to look in a new non-linear direction. We’re currently following the straight and narrow line of higher speeds. What seems to be the clear trend in cellular is that transport diversification is where things will head.

In a previous posting I mentioned that HotSpot 2.0 was coming. I think HotSpot 2.0 is the new 5G of cellular.

Once VOLTE (Voice over LTE) happens, then all cellular traffic is just Internet packets being transported. Voice, video, SMS is all just IP data packets. The cellular system becomes simpler because there really is no more “switching” of calls.

But VOLTE is profound in a way that meshes with HotSpot 2.0. It means that when you are in range of a WiFi HotSpot 2.0 you can send those voice/video/whatever packets over the hotspot, offloading the LTE tower entirely. Unlike the current Rube Goldberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rube_Goldberg) arrangement of trying to switch calls through WiFi, VOLTE adapts to HotSpot 2.0 very naturally. In fact, transitioning a call from VOLTE to WiFi is simply inherent in the way IP traffic is routed on the Internet. There is nothing special that needs to be added.

So where does this leave 5G?

1) Cellular will move to hierarchal towers (ironically much like the old Bell System 5-tier routing model for DDD). Calls first route over HotSpot 2.0 (50 foot radius) and then to 850+ MHz towers (2 mile radius) and then to 700 MHz towers (20 mile radius.) This will be more efficient.

2) Flat rates for voice is here to stay. No going back to per-minute charging.

3) Cellular will be for people who need coverage in their car or where there are no hotspots (like a real-estate agent needs coverage in an empty home.)

4) Cellular will not be viewed so much as phone service, but as coverage in-between home and office.

5) Whatever becomes of the 5G standard isn’t going to be all that important to consumers. It’s for the benefit of carriers