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September 4, 2018
Tech Content Needs Regulation

August 28, 2018
Survey: Real World AI Deployments Still Limited

August 21, 2018
Nvidia RTX Announcement Highlights AI Influence on Computer Graphics

August 14, 2018
The Shifting Nature of Technology at Work

August 7, 2018
The Beauty of 4K

July 31, 2018
The Future of End User Computing

July 24, 2018
5G Complexity to Test Standards

July 17, 2018
California Data Privacy Law Highlights Growing Frustration with Tech Industry

July 10, 2018
Dual Geographic Paths to the Tech Future

July 3, 2018
The Changing Relationship Between People and Technology

June 12, 2018
The Business of Business Software

June 5, 2018
Siri Shortcuts Highlights Evolution of Voice-Based Interfaces

May 29, 2018
Virtual Travel and Exploration Apps Are Key to Mainstream VR Adoption

May 22, 2018
The World of AI Is Still Taking Baby Steps

May 15, 2018
Device Independence Becoming Real

May 8, 2018
Bringing Vision to the Edge

May 1, 2018
The Shifting Enterprise Computing Landscape

April 24, 2018
The "Not So" Late, "And Still" Great Desktop PC

April 17, 2018
The Unseen Opportunities of AR and VR

April 10, 2018
The New Security Reality

April 3, 2018
Making AI Real

March 27, 2018
Will IBM Apple Deal Let Watson Replace Siri For Business Apps?

March 20, 2018
Edge Servers Will Redefine the Cloud

March 13, 2018
Is it Too Late for Data Privacy?

March 6, 2018
The Hidden Technology Behind Modern Smartphones

February 27, 2018
The Surprising Highlight of MWC: Audio

February 20, 2018
The Blurring Lines for 5G

February 13, 2018
The Modern State of WiFi

February 6, 2018
Wearables to Benefit from Simplicity

January 30, 2018
Smartphone Market Challenges Raise Major Questions

January 23, 2018
Hardware-Based AI

January 16, 2018
The Tech Industry Needs Functional Safety

January 9, 2018
Will AI Power Too Many Smart Home Devices?

January 2, 2018
Top Tech Predictions for 2018

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TECHnalysis Research Blog

September 11, 2018
The Many Paths and Parts to 5G

By Bob O'Donnell

The road to 5G is certainly an interesting one, and it’s increasingly clear that there are multiple paths to getting there. Different countries around the world are taking different routes and within countries, different carriers are also following unique strategies. The net result—realistically—is probably going to be even more confusing as we move through what is already a complicated transition.

Thankfully, there are a number of important commonalities that will link all the strategies together. First, it’s important to note that 5G is the first major new network that builds completely on its predecessor. Unlike the move to 4G from 3G or even 3G from 2G, 5G can fully utilize the very strong 4G LTE networks that have been—and are still being—built all around the world. In each of the previous network transitions, entirely new networks had to be put in place before the benefits of the new standard were realized.

The practical impact of this existing technology base on 5G is that LTE is going to stick around a lot longer than previous superseded networks. In addition, it’s likely that the full transition to 5G could take longer. At the same time, a number of major technical advances used to enhance LTE, including MIMO (multiple-input, multiple output) and OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), will be beneficial for both 4G and 5G users and their devices.

In fact, it’s even conceivable that some advanced versions of Gigabit LTE could be faster than early 5G network deployments because of all the refinements that have been made to 4G LTE over the years. To be clear, as 5G evolves, it will be faster than 4G, but many of the initial benefits from 5G will be focused more on delivering consistently high speeds in many different environments—think stadiums, trade shows, surrounded by skyscrapers in a dense city—as opposed to just the intermittent high speeds we can occasionally now get from 4G. In part, this is because early 5G mobile network deployments are almost entirely focused on high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum signals, which require many more small cell towers that can transmit over much shorter distances than the lower frequencies used for 4G LTE. Transition to full 5G support in the lower frequency bands currently used for 4G is still several years away.

Many of these key advancements are being driving by important innovations from leading telecom industry players, such as Qualcomm, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Intel, and Huawei, all of whom provide their efforts to organizations like the 3GPP, which help create and promulgate critical worldwide telecom industry standards. Of course, enormous amounts of R&D dollars and efforts go into creating these standards, so the companies involved all charge royalties to recoup and justify their efforts. While some of these practices have been viewed as controversial, the fact is, companies should be able to benefit from the intellectual property they’ve created—even though they become part of industry standards. The laws behind these principles can get complex quickly, but the bottom line is that there is a long and rich US business tradition of being rewarded for key technology innovations. In fact, it’s one of the key reasons companies have been willing to make the investments necessary to push critical standards forward in many different industries.

How these technologies get deployed by chip, device, network equipment makers, and carriers is, of course, the real trick to differentiation and strategy, in particular as 5G starts to be rolled out. From a carrier perspective, one of the biggest early differentiators will be which markets they choose to focus the technology on. In the US, for example, Verizon has talked about first using 5G for fixed wireless deployments, providing a wireless alternative to broadband services currently offered by cable companies and different technology solutions from carriers. AT&T has said it plans to focus first on mobile 5G applications. Of course, all the telcos will eventually provide a wide range of services—particularly for mobile networks—but the manner with which they offer those services will vary.

As the technology base evolves, we’re also going to see a much wider range of services available with 5G than we’ve seen with previous network generations. While it’s easy to simply call this hype, there are a number of important reasons why 5G really is going to be a big deal. First, much of the network infrastructure and services associated with 5G are arriving at a pivotal time for other related technologies as well. Software-defined networking, or SDN, in particular, marks a particularly important shift in technologies for networking equipment. While SDN has been around in private networks for several years, its real impact in terms of flexibility and range of services available won’t be felt until 5G is more widely deployed.

Similarly, the influence of edge computing models is emerging, just as 5G is becoming an important factor. With edge computing, the idea is that instead of focusing on a centralized cloud computing architecture, it’s going to be more important to spread those computing resources across a wider range of devices that are distributed across the ends of the network. Ironically, some have argued that the rise of distributed edge computing could actually lessen the importance and dependence on a network connection, because the compute and storage resources are more readily accessible. When you think about the issue from an overall computer systems perspective, however, you realize that in order to most efficiently take advantage of those resources, you need to dramatically increase the throughput to and from these edge devices. Otherwise, they could sit their starving for data—a classic design flaw. By providing speedy access to data, along with a flexible, software-driven network architecture, 5G can fully enable the potential of edge computing—hence it’s direct tie to, and dependence upon, the 5G technology shift. In fact, as AT&T hinted at during its Spark developer’s event in San Francisco yesterday, the company is intensely interested in bringing more compute power directly into the telecom network, as well as developing more sophisticated software that can balance the compute load in an intelligent way across the network, while making the transition to 5G.

To be clear, the 5G hype is very real, and early deployments in late 2018/2019 could prove to be disappointing. However, when you analyze the key technological developments behind the 5G transition and put them in context with other key tech industry megatrends happening around them, it’s clear that the eventual impact of 5G will be enormous. At this point, it’s just about figuring out which parts and which paths will be used to get there.

Here's a link to the column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

Leveraging more than 10 years of award-winning, professional radio experience, TECHnalysis Research participates in a video-based podcast called Everything Technology.
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