Some companies are saying that 5G is going to be the enabling technology behind getting the predicted 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, however many questions remain about the manifestation of 5G and how long it will take to arrive.
More specifically, according to a recent report by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and DHL, by 2020, there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet that will generate will $8 trillion in value at stake, Currently we have about 15 billion connected devices -- so that's quite a leap in connections -- and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) predicts that growth of 5G will happen as the next step in the evolution of connectivity.
Every decade, there's a new generation of G, says Asha Keddy, vice president of Intel's Communication and Devices Group, and general manager of the company's Standards and Advanced Technology team, in a blog on Intel's site. "The 2G networks were designed for voice, 3G for voice and data, and 4G for broadband Internet experiences," she says. "With 5G, we'll see compute capabilities getting fused with communications everywhere." And this includes "smart" appliances and wearables, as well as location-aware mobile devices.
Diego R. Lopez, senior technology expert at Telefónica , concurs that 5G "is intended to blur the limits between the network and the computer (or the cloud to use a more modern term), merging software into networks with NFV, and networks into software by means of SDN." (See The Missing Link.)
In an email interview with The New IP, he also says that the generalized time frame of ten years for each evolution, from 2G to 3G to 4G and 5G is reasonable, though there are always unpredictable factors that can influence the time frame.
But, back to the question of how we get from here to there? Lopez believes that it's not just a question of industry leadership but of direction from users, and, he identified some key steps for the industry to undertake before ushering in the age of 5G such as standardization and design that allows for energy efficiency and flexibility. The industry will also have to rise to the challenges to security and privacy and other possible threats that will arise from the new hyper-connected environment, he adds.
Users will be the ones who ultimately influence when 5G truly arrives, according to Lopez. He asserts that as users were the ones who guided the evolution toward 3G and 4G, they will likely do the same for 5G. But past performance has also demonstrated "that network service markets tend to enter unpredicted 'resonant states,' " which is why he would not assert with absolute certainty when 5G will be realized.
But he can say with certainty what has to happen for it to emerge. First off, Lopez says, there has to be agreement across the industry on "what 5G is." While it sounds simple enough, it really will only emerge from "research, experimentation and practical demonstration," he says, adding that on the basis of the common understanding that emerges from such investigation, a set of comprehensive and open standards can be adopted by the industry as a whole.
In addition, "energy efficiency will be a must," Lopez says, because all the connected devices will have to be able to retain charges. To make sure that everything keeps running smoothly, the 5G structure will have to be designed for a flexible and highly distributed cloud orchestration, he adds.
Planning for 5G also requires taking into account the potential downside of greater connectivity. For example, while there is a much greater potential loss of security and privacy in an environment with high potential invasiveness, it's possible to take a proactive stance for those knowable threats.
However, Lopez warns that even bigger unknown challenges are waiting for us round the corner. Those will only be discovered after "the new usage patterns enabled by 5G pervasiveness start to emerge," he says, and the industry will have to be prepared to address those challenges as soon as they become known.
While the road to 5G may not be altogether smooth because there are a number of unknown factors that could shift the course along the way -- and questions of security and privacy remain -- still the tenor remains optimistic, and the next five years should prove very exciting for the industry as well as for the customers who look forward to greater connectivity in 2020.
— Ariella Brown, Freelance Contributor, special to The New IP