5G is the revenant technology which could work wonders for the IoT

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In 30 years of communications Paul Carter has seen more re-incarnations than any exorcist, says Nick Booth.

Long-forgotten multiplexing methods keep reappearing. If you thought Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) died with 2G you might be spooked to see wideband buried in the foundations of 5G. But Carter’s hair doesn’t stand on end when he sees, say, traces of ancient wireless loop appearing in 5G networks.

Carter has seen many technologies launch, die – sometimes of embarrassment – and then find favour again as he has progressed from a masters and PhD degree student of mobile radio to the CEO of Global Wireless Solutions.

Mass acceptance?

Like much of the marketing of technology, the tired old slogans about revolution and evolution miss the point and mislead people. “When Barry West was pushing Wimax for Sprint, he said that America would never have won independence if it talked about evolution,” says Carter, recalling how a British industry legend had tried to endear himself to the American market. His dig at Long Term Evolution (LTE) was right, but then again Wimax didn’t win mass acceptance either.

However, elements of each would come back from the dead in the blueprint for 5G. This suggests we think about technology all wrong. It is a living breathing entity, neither a tool for revolution or a chapter of evolution. It’s more of a spirit that keeps coming back, a Revenant.

The Revenant

It is the constant misunderstanding of the nature of each new wave of automation that stops us from getting the full value out of it. Carter witnessed this happening on the mobile phone side of the comms business. Both providers and consumers endlessly struggle to understand each other. Users don’t understand what their options are and the suppliers don’t anticipate the tastes of their customers. “We’d run survey after survey which never got close to getting under the skin of the customers,” says Carter.

Do you remember when the exhibitions about 3G mobiles used to be all about girls, games and gambling. (The three Gs – geddit?) Surely much more value could have been created out of what was already a sensitive, intelligent network.

Unless there is wider appreciation of 5G networks, we are never going to realise the full potential this technology can unlock for the IoT says Carter. The leap in complexity from 4G to 5G isn’t reflected in the name. It should really be called Five Six and Seven G, so significant is the advance in all directions.  

Not just about speed

As a result of this underestimation of 5G, people will assume it’s just about delivering more speed. If the non-technical people who sign off on projects don’t understand the product, they are less likely to exercise the full range of options open to them.

Which is unfortunate given that we are moving to an IoT world, where machine-to-machine transactions give the consumer so many more options. We could, in theory, be able to influence the environment.

But instead, the applications they demand will only scratch the surface of what is possible.

“We try to ask the users what matters to them and whether they understand the environment, and the possibilities,” says Carter.

The possibilities are always a sticking point. When Carter was new to the industry, British TV programmes like Tomorrow’s World had been reporting on a new mobile phone technology. The conclusions of the telly ‘futurists’ were always that, ‘it works, but nobody would be able to use it because the British government had no plans to release the airwaves’.

This (ultimately) incorrect prediction mattered, because spectrum was made available for mobile phones and just a few years later, in 1985, the first UK wireless network was launched.

The point being that developers all over the world will need popular backing for their proposals to work – if they involve the public, that is.

Lower power, longer life

The largely unreported beauty of 5G is that it allows for IoT devices to function on lower power for much longer. That’s a revelation that won’t get lay audiences or boards of directors leaping out of their seats punching the air, unless you can put it into a context they will understand. However, it’s the key asset that could help us use IoT over 5G so that we can get better data, change the way we interpret, make better decisions and control all the elements in our environment and ultimately our lives, says Carter.

The author is freelance technology writer, Nick Booth.

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