5G: What is it, and why do you say we need it? Separating ridiculous vendor hype from hard reality

Peter Gothard
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5G - a whole extra G more than 4G. You dig?
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5G - a whole extra G more than 4G. You dig?

"5G is currently many things to many people" and other deflating industry flim-flam

I have, finally, declared war on 5G.

I've been sitting quite quietly for the last couple of years waiting for the other shoe to drop on the whole 5G 'ultrafast internets for all' issue, but as OFCOM moves towards signing it up for actual public consumption and my pre-MWC inbox fills with "exciting announcements" (read: tripe) from vendors about how amazing and exciting 5G is going to be, I've decided it's all reached five to midight a little bit.

Thus, to try and save souls and sanity among the UK IT industry, I thought I'd try and cut a swathe through the bullshit and help IT budget holders try and figure out how much they're being lied to and misled by this latest bandwagon (spoiler: probably lots).

The approach was simple: I contacted tech vendors far and wide and asked them three key questions:

What is 5G?

How are you going to bring it to your end users?

Why should they even want it?

I was asked to elaborate on these deliberately vague and silly questions on several occasions, and flatly refused every single time. You're not getting me that easy, Dwayne Toddhunter, VP of Communications. This time, you're going to dance to my cheeky little tune.

From those who played along without kicking up a fuss, the answers I received were erm... illuminating, and I'll tackle some of the finer replies as I try to intersperse them with some good sense.

"New economic research"

Let's start with O2, who has recently "released new economic research which finds that 5G infrastructue is set to outstrip the economic benefits of fibre broadband for the UK by 2026".

This, of course, is tied quite politically into governmental ‘post-Brexit' strategy to try and deflect from the other, potentially numerous, financial difficulties of leaving the EU, but nevertheless - O2 maintains that 5G will be "twice as fast as fibre".

This is despite, (as we'll learn later, oh we will learn) the fact nobody is yet quite clear what spectrum it will run on, or how the hugely expensive infrastructure to roll it out is going to stack up next to the so-called "productivity boost" of £3bn a year we'll apparently all enjoy when 5G replaces 4G (and, apparently, all broadband).

Cobham Wireless, which of course will be demoing at MWC this year (and giving you a keyring), reckons it's nailed 10Gbps (that's 10,000Mbps), via what it's calling an "IoT proof-of-concept solution". Neat stuff, but again - with no infrastructure nailed down on an international level, this is just more spluttering pipedreams.

Interestingly, Mobiles.co.uk told me 5G is only going to provide "100mb per second in metropolitan areas". That's not 10Gbps, and certainly isn't "twice as fast as fibre". So much baloney, whizzing around my inbox.

Time-out. Let's get some ground level sense on all this.

Professor William Webb is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), as well as the author of a book called "The 5G Myth" so, given the opportunity, I just had to push him those same three questions. But first, here's Webb's general argument as to why 5G as it's being sold is probably nothing but dead-eyed, half-minute-long handshakes by Mr Corporate Kool-Aid and friends:

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