While taking a break at last month’s Mobile World Congress - Americas in Los Angeles, a young lady put a microphone in front of me and asked me “What does 5G mean to you?” She was accompanied by a film crew, so the pressure was on. The first thing that popped in my head was “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!” (Backman-Turner Overdrive, circa 1974). The young lady seemed happy with that answer, gave me a high five, and then moved away to her next target.
A little later, after unsuccessfully trying to remember the rest of the words to that BTO song, it occurred to me that my statement really had a double meaning – both accurate. Much of the MWC- A, as well as the AT&T Spark event in San Francisco the day before, was focused on the mind-boggling promise of 5G including live eSports, hologram calls, virtual reality, and the like. It also seemed clear that the lines between reality and virtual reality are blurring. Quoting one AT&T executive “as the digital world is integrated into the physical world a new reality will emerge. Everyday people will have the equivalent of super powers.” I remember thinking, WOW, that’s some profound stuff!
Later in the show I ran into Becky Worley, a technical reporter often featured on ABC’s Good Morning America. I asked her what she was interested in at the show and she said it was “all the amazing things to come with 5G.” To me this was yet another reminder of how a trade show and an industry, that was once heavily focused on network infrastructure and engineering topics, is being transformed.
But now, here’s the other side of the coin. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” also describes our current situation because we really haven’t (commercially) seen any of this yet. Major carriers are in the very early stages of 5G rollout, mainly focused on fixed wireless with some mobility applications.
Also, the 3GPP industry standard body is still in the process of producing the second major phase of 5G specifications (Release 16) which is targeted for late in 2019. There are still a lot of things to be nailed down. So, what do we make of this gap?
In my view, I think it’s important to be realistic. It will likely be several years before we see 5G transforming our lives on a mass basis. But, just as science fiction proceeds scientific advances, I do think we are heading towards a remarkable future. Developments like 360 video capabilities to handsets, smart factories with increased automation, high fidelity/low latency, and a shift from connecting people to connecting devices, are all on the 5G road map. The dreamers are dreaming it - the technology will follow.
And, here is the other thing. I recently heard that the average Virtual Reality user is only 14 years old. I think it is very likely that 5G will unlock a new economy in the future with the target market being those kids who are dreaming of things we can only imagine.
As for me, from the perspective of a guy who’s been through all the previous technical generations before this, I am excited to see how all this will play out. Yes, there is a massive amount of work to be done to achieve this 5G future with many non-trivial technical problems to solve. But, the 5G vision has become clearer as the use cases are coming into focus. A lot of progress is being made.
BTW, my favorite 5G use case is of me sitting on my back deck talking with holograms of my grandkids. And, while sipping a favorite beverage, I’m telling them about a time when "Takin' Care of Business” really did mean you had to get up every morning when an alarm clock went off, get dressed, and go into an office. 😊