Saturday, February 15, 2020

Predictions About the Future Are Almost Always Wrong

But they can be kinda fun. One of the staple trade magazines in my old line of work is Microwaves & RF magazine (RF = radio frequency); one of their longtime editors is Lou Frenzel.  Lou has been in various trade magazines since 2005 and I've been aware of his work for most of that.  Lou writes a piece this month called “Perfect Vision - Predictions for 2020” and I thought his views on what's going on in the wireless 5G industry might be interesting.

I'll claim fair use and reproduce it here:
2020 clearly seems to be the year that critical mass is achieved, making it possible for the 5G wireless business to begin a growth spurt. Limited 5G service started in 2019. 5G has clearly won the all-time hype contest with continuous enthusiastic, over-the-top pandering, and untested declarations that may not be fulfilled. A rollout will take years, of course, but there has been a push by parts vendors, cellular operators, and consumers who want faster downloads of 8K movies and 24/7 cat videos to their iPhones. Here’s just a sampling of what to look for:
  • Fragmented and limited 5G cellular service in selected cities in the U.S. All major U.S. carriers will offer 5G services mostly in some of the major cities with a unique mix of both low-band (below 6 GHz) and high-band (above 6 GHz) services.
  • China will continue to dominate the 5G movement with an enormous number of users. The battle over the ban of China’s Huawei base-station equipment for security reasons isn’t completely settled in the U.S. and continues in Europe.
  • Initial smartphones will probably not have full coverage of both 4G and 5G bands, limiting their use mainly to local services. Some 5G phones may only cover the low bands and not the millimeter-wave (mmWave) bands. Others will cover both but will be far more expensive. Furthermore, you will need a new phone if you change carriers, as their operational bands aren’t the same. These phones will also continue to include the popular, more widely available LTE low bands. Connections over the mmWave bands may be spotty unless a user is close to one or more small cells that will make up the 5G infrastructure.
  • Fixed broadband 5G wireless service will be offered to consumers in competition with cable TV and DSL companies. Self-installed modems can produce up to 1-Gb/s data rates under ideal line-of-sight conditions.
  • ABI Research reports that subscriptions to video-streaming services are predicted to hit 91 million over the next five years. The speed of 5G will facilitate that trend. ABI also indicates that a looming major issue is the significant increase in energy required to provide 5G service. Who would have thought?  [Besides everyone - SiG]
  • The T-Mobile-Sprint merger, which appears to be getting the green light, could go either way. Combining both companies would produce a bigger enterprise that could more directly compete with AT&T and Verizon. However, if it does happen to still fall through, Sprint with take a downward spiral and eventually the assets will be acquired later, while T-Mobile will continue but remain a smaller third competitor.
  • Spectrum will remain a key issue in expanding 5G, but the FCC is working on the problem with auctions (C-band), spectrum swaps, and band sharing (3, 5 GHz). Initially 5G will mostly use spectrum below 6 GHz. A few mmWave systems will emerge. Some predict that carriers will phase out current 3G spectrum faster than the 2G shutdown to make way for more 5G bandwidth.
  • A growing consensus feels that 5G will be essential for two key technologies—the Internet of Things and self-driving cars. With the growing number of IoT products and installations, 5G will have the capacity to handle the massive amount of data. Autonomous vehicles are expected to need the much lower latency that is reportedly available with 5G.
Bruce Lancaster of Wilson Electronics indicates that as 5G rolls out in 2020, the current LTE network will stay in place to serve 5G until the more advanced network is available. He believes that its primary use will be the expected voice and data services. The “killer app” for 5G has not emerged. Customer capacity will grow. The low-band spectrum will dominate (e.g., 850 MHz from AT&T and 600 MHz from T-Mobile) initial systems. A major move to mmWave bands will come later. Mr. Lancaster feels that even as 5G comes on line, Wilson’s line of repeaters or range extenders will still be needed to ensure more reliable connections, especially in buildings.
There you have his take.  Is this absolutely likely to be how it turns out this year?  I doubt it's exactly right, but I wouldn't be shocked if he ends up 80% right.  Most of these problems are pretty well known, but the 5G hype is everywhere. 

My take is that 5G is going to be a big nothing for most people who buy the shiny, expensive new phones.  8K videos?  I'm going to go out on a limb and guess there's 100 8K videos in existence in the world, and most people will be interested in watching a couple.  If their cat videos or social media loads faster, the novelty will last an hour or two.  If the network is good, 4G LTE can do over the Gigabit/second barrier now, supposedly 5G speeds, but only newer phones with better hardware can do it.  4G LTE just doesn't have the buzz behind it. 

But, after all, industry is already laying the groundwork for The Next Big Thing, 6G, to roll out in about 10 years.

“5G??  Dude, those are power lines!”  Ah... yeah, but if you look closely just left of and below center, you can see what looks like a cell tower. 


  1. Now I have to worry about the implications of 6G before I even have 5G - and the Chinese listening into my calls and reading my texts.

    1. Gonna have to start sending endearments by folded notes like we use to in grade school... (1/2G)

  2. The "S" in IoT stands for "security".

  3. Some kind of microwave link....