Raining on the 5G Parade

by Colin Berkshire

I’m reading a lot more about 5G these days. And most of it seems to be written by persons with little grasp of what 5G is.

“Imagine a lightbulb that adjusts its brightness during the day”
“A T-Shirt that calls 911 if you have a heart attack”
“5G is going to support millions of devices per square kilometer versus tens of thousands”

Ahem, no.

5G uses very high frequencies which are extremely fast but also which are extremely short-range. And, currently a line-of-sight connection is required.

This means that there is no 5G inside an elevator, or even inside buildings that lack line-of-sight, because 5G cannot penetrate anything. Even window glass is a challenge for 5G.

What 5G is excellent at is delivering high speed internet to your home or business rooftop, provided you are within a few hundred offer of a tower. So, the ideal application for 5G would be towers located on every telephone pole to deliver internet to you so that you don’t need to dig a trench for a wire into your home.

Because 5G now has so much bandwidth, it’s reasonable to build mesh networks from them. So if every telephone pole in your city had a 5G tower on it, then there wouldn’t be a need for wire between the poles (except for power to the towers.) The towers could all relay messages for each other in a mesh network, since most telephone poles have a line of sight to the next pole.

5G is often touted as enabling the internet of things, along the lines of something that will allow a lightbulb to adjust its brightness during the day. (Yes, really, they use this as an example, see https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/5g-technology) This may surprise people, but a lightbulb’s brightness can already be adjusted using a device called a photocell. As if by magic—and without being connected to the internet—the photocell senses how much light there is and can make the bulb brighter in real-time. Amazing, huh?

Now, Verizon may think that people will pay $5 a month per lightbulb to be connected to the network, but I don’t think so. Nor will people pay $5 a month per toaster, washing machines, or vacuums.

Why do I take this radical view that people won’t pay $5 a month to connect their toasters? Because if they REALLY need to connect their toaster to the internet they are going to use WiFi…which is both faster and FREE.

So when you think of 5G, remember…

  • Line of sight only.
  • Cannot penetrate anything, no walls and perhaps no windows.
  • Very short range, as in hundreds of feet, not miles.